Pain, Determination, and Resilience in the Nineveh Plains

ICC Note: This week marks the 4-year anniversary of when ISIS took control of the Nineveh Plains, forcing thousands of Christians to flee. For decades, Iraq’s Christians have experienced targeted violence but it wasn’t until 2014 that their plight was noticed by the world stage. The challenges of rebuilding and healing after ISIS are monumental. It is estimated that nearly half of Iraq’s Christians remain displaced.    

08/08/2018 Iraq (AINA) –  The evil of attempting to annihilate an entire people group because of who they are generates long-lasting consequences. For Iraq’s Christians, the horrific pain of genocide has repeated time and time again. Over 80 years ago, the term “genocide” was coined because of the mass slaughter of Iraq’s Christians. But it took ISIS militants sweeping across the Nineveh Plains in 2014 for the depth of Christian persecution in Iraq to gain recognition on the world stage.

Sadly, today (August 7) marks the anniversary of both genocides.

Dr. Raphael Lemkin would not coin the word “genocide” until almost a decade later, but it was the 1933 Simmele (ܣܡܠܐ) Massacre which disturbed him so much that he would make raising awareness about genocide his life’s work. The massacre occurred near Dohuk, in northern Iraq, and left more than 3,000 Christians of all ages killed in the most horrific manner. It was reported that some of the bodies were burned on the pages of Bibles.

It is because of this genocide that many Iraqi Christians commemorate August 7 as a day of mourning. They never expected that on the same day in 2014, they would become the victims of yet another genocide.

“We did never expect displacement,” said Yusuf. Originally from Qaraqosh, Yusuf now lives 70 kilometers away, in a building never intended to be a place of residence. He lives with his wife, whose name translates to hope, and his two disabled adult daughters. Although Qaraqosh was liberated nearly two years ago, Yusuf and his family will never return home. The grief they bear as victims of genocide is too much.

“Whenever I am there, even if the house is clean, psychologically I feel uncomfortable. Life is like it had turned into something bad… I am having psychological problems whenever I remember those incidents. We are alive, but we cannot enjoy life again,” Yusuf told ICC.

As he reflects back on the day of his displacement, the emotions are mixed with despair and frustration. “We were sure that we would come back very soon, we were not expecting that to happen… We didn’t take anything with us, just our clothes. The daughters needed diapers, so we took a few diapers for them, and that was all… we could not live well (because of the special needs).”

Like many displaced families, they were constantly searching for housing, a situation made more complex because of their daughters’ disabilities. One would eventually fall from a height of five meters, causing her to lose her eye. “I feel like I am in a nightmare. It is a disaster as bad things are happening to us all the time,” said Yusuf.

Yusuf’s experience speaks to the challenges that many of Iraq’s Christians currently face. On-the-ground sources estimate that up to half of the Christians who fled ISIS’s genocide have not returned home. The psychological and financial strain is a significant barrier, as well as the unstable security situation in the Nineveh Plains.

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