onetoone
one
Current Issue
December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
26 October 2016
CNEWA staff




Displaced Iraqi Christians take part in celebrations on 18 October 2016 in Erbil, to mark the liberation of Qaraqosh, which had been Iraq’s largest Christian town before it was overrun by ISIS in August 2014. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

As Iraqi soldiers intensify their offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS, we are getting scattered reports from local clergy, describing scenes of great fear — but also tremendous hope.

The following is part of an email sent by Bishop Yousif Mirkius, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Suleimaniyah. He described what happened last Thursday night, 20 October, when jihadists from ISIS, trying to escape security forces, sought shelter in local residences in Kirkuk, including the Dominican sisters’ convent and houses rented by the bishop to house immigrant students. The students, he writes, are from all faiths: Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and Mandaeans, numbering about 500 in all. As he explains, 71 students were in the area that night when ISIS burst in. They were under the responsibility of Mr. Imad Matti, who described what happened:

The young girls realized the jihadists were invading at 3 in the morning on Friday. These terrorists had climbed the walls of the houses and reached the garden shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The students took photos of them and noticed that they were not only armed but also equipped with explosive belts around their waists. The security forces were aware of the seriousness of the situation and these girls had to remain 24 hours without electricity — trembling, in total fear. At that moment, heavy fighting took place. The terrorists would not surrender. So a plan was adopted to make everything possible to save the 14 students in the first house. The security forces succeeded in saving them despite their continuous gunfire during the whole operation.

At 2 a.m., we proceeded to rescue the seven students in the second house. It was the riskiest operation, as four terrorists were inside the house eating and drinking while the students were hidden under their beds. These terrorists must have been blinded by the Lord, because at no time did they find them. I therefore took the risk to ask them to come out of their hiding place, to run toward the wall at the back of the house. Nine of the emergency forces demonstrated exceptional courage and bravery. They were more than ready to give their lives to save these girls. It was dark and despite intense firing, the seven students were rescued.

As for the third group of students, the rescue operation took place at 5 a.m. on Saturday thanks to the “Suat” forces from Suleimaniyah. There were 30 students in that house. I must admit that I admired their courage and determination as the girls remained calm and followed very precisely all the orders and instructions that were given to them during these operations.

After this intervention, the four terrorists blew themselves up in the students’ house.

The seven students had remained under their beds 18 hours without moving and without letting their presence be detected. They were transferred to Erbil, where they are recovering and reassuring their families.

We do hope they will continue their studies with even more motivation than ever, with the help of the Chaldean diocese who has committed to finance their studies despite all the difficulties and challenges we are facing.

Bishop Yousif concluded: “We thank God for this grace and miracles. We also pray for all the martyrs, the wounded and victims as well as for all those who suffered damage and losses.”

Also this week, we received this jubilant, poetic communication from Basilios Georges Casmoussa, patriarchal auxiliary and Syriac Catholic archbishop emeritus of Mosul. He described the great joy surrounding the liberation of Qaraqosh, a Christian stronghold in the Nineveh Plain that had been emptied of Christians after the invasion of ISIS in 2014:

So, Qaraqosh is liberated!

Alleluia!

Cry of joy, peace and hope for its children and all its friends over the world!

Message of thanksgiving to God. …

Message of gratitude to the courageous fighters of the Iraqi army, who came from all regions of Iraq, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis … together.

Who, at the dawn of 22 of Oct 2016, penetrated, with their Iraqi flag, the deserted city. …

The image of this valiant soldier, child of Qaraqosh, moved by the emotion, when he put his foot on the ground of his silent city, after a so long an absence, how he sprinkled his head and face by its dust, as a sweet balsam. …

Or, this other, with his weapon on his shoulder, kissing the entrance door of his childhood church. …

Or, this group of officers and soldiers, standing in front of the central altar, broken by Daesh [ISIS], and praying to the Virgin Mary “Shlama ellakh Maryam” in his maternal language, the soureth, an Aramaic idiom coming from the time of Christ. …

Or this young priest ringing the bell of the church of Bartella, another Christian city liberated in the Plain of Nineveh, yesterday. …

These views shall remain forever in the collective memory.

My message is a message of gratitude, also, to Kurdistan, who welcomed us when we were displaced, and to all those who came to help us by different ways. …

My message is a message of gratitude to all our friends, those unknown men and women over the world, who supported us by their solidarity, since the beginning of our exodus until today, in many ways: humanitarian aid, schools’ construction, churches, houses, medical centers, repeated visits of personalities coming from Europe, America and Australia.

Friends, as unknown soldiers, you made us feel we are not forgotten, we are not alone, we are beloved and recognized.

You have defended our cause. …

You, already, are preparing new projects to support us in our efforts of reconstruction. Be accompanied by our gratefulness and prayers:

To start the chapter of the reconstruction — the reconstruction of living together, with harmony and solidarity between different Christian denominations, and Muslim neighbors, Kurds, Arabs, Shabaks, Yazidis, Kakais, Mandaeans. …

In mutual respect, the recognition of diversity and rights. …

Consider all of them as citizens with the same rank, same rights, same duties.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi