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ICC Note: While many Iraqi Christians desire to stay and rebuild the Nineveh Plains, just as many are ready to leave Iraq after so many years of targeted violence. Nearly every Christian has a relative or friend living abroad, presenting a challenge to rebuilding the social construct of Christian community within Iraq. Nevertheless, that so many Christians are eager to stay in Iraq brings hope that reconstruction after ISIS is possible.                  

06/17/2018 Iraq (Crux Now) –  Over the centuries, the Middle East has always been a land where expectations tend to experience especially tough collisions with reality, so it probably should be no surprise that a massive effort to rebuild the Christian village which was the epicenter of a brutal ISIS onslaught in 2014 has, at its heart, three grand paradoxes.

Qaraqosh – or, as the 96 percent of the population that’s Christian call it, “Baghdeda”, because Baghdeda is Aramaic rather than Arabic and is part of a broader push to reclaim Christian identity here – was the largest Christian community on the Nineveh Plains, a swath of land that overlaps the border between Iraq and Kurdish-controlled territory.

When ISIS began advancing on the plains in 2014, virtually every man, woman and child, some 100,000 people in all, were forced to flee to the nearby city of Erbil, where they turned the Christian enclave of Ankawa into one of the world’s largest informal IDP camps, only in this case taking refuge with the local churches.

When the jihadist forces were driven back out of the Nineveh Plains three years later, a vast mobilization called the Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Project was launched to make possible the return of the Christian residents of the area by rebuilding their homes, schools, clinics and churches.

It’s a joint effort of the Syria Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic churches, and it’s supported by the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need, along with major grants from sources as varied as the Hungarian government and the Knights of Columbus. Considerable headway has already been made; in Baghdeda, for instance, some 2,000 homes have already been rebuilt, and slightly over half of the town’s pre-ISIS population of 50,000 has returned.

One paradox surrounding what’s been described as the “Marshall Plan” of the Nineveh Plains is that, sometimes, the people it’s intended to benefit can be ambivalent about whether they actually want it. At times, speaking to Christians here can seem like being trapped in a music video by The Clash in the early 1980s, since the defining question often is: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

It’s not that people here aren’t deeply, forever grateful for the thousand and one ways in which the Church has come to their rescue, but for every one determined that no one’s going to take away their birthright, there’s another convinced there’s little realistic hope of a stable future and they’re ready to move.

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