society
Church bells to ring once more this Easter in Iraq

Church bells to ring once more this Easter in Iraq


by Imran Khan
 
Baghdad, Iraq - Hidden away behind a huge concrete blast wall and a heavily armed police checkpoint in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad is a beautiful little Chaldean church.

In the garden, a statue of the Virgin Mary is tucked away into a little man-made cave and inside the word of God is written in English, Arabic and Aramaic.

The priest shows us in the Chaldean Church of the Virgin Mary, which dates back to 1960s.

The Christian community in Iraq is said to be one of the oldest continuously existing communities in the world. They have had a presence in this land as far back as Mesopotamia.

In the last few years, the community has seen brutality and violence directed towards them.

The takeover of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), Iraq's second largest city, in 2014 saw the armed group kill men, women and children and seize Christian-owned houses.

Those who survived fled, and for the first time in its history, Mosul was left without Christians. This Easter, though, things have changed.

Rebirth
Much as the resurrection of Jesus Christ that Easter marks, the Iraqi Christian community is going through a rebirth.

ISIL was routed from the Nineveh plains and Mosul at the end of 2017 and for the first time since Church bells will ring out over Easter.

For Father Robert Jerjees in Baghdad, it is both a relief and blessing. He told Al Jazeera: "[The fact] that our Christian brothers and sisters are coming back to their hometowns and rebuilding their future once more despite huge challenges gives an indication of resilience and the strong will to co-exist in this multireligious country."

"We feel there is still hope for Christians to live in Iraq among our other brothers from different religions."

Baghdad was spared much of the hatred that ISIL directed towards Christians elsewhere. In Mosul and the Nineveh plains, however, it is a different story.

Churches are destroyed and many do not even have homes to which they can return. They feel abandoned by the government and left to fend for themselves.
In the neighbouring town of Hamdaniya, coffee shop owner Yunidim Yusif said, "There is no government support at all, it seems that the government does not care about the people in here.

"The people here are helpless, when people return to Hamdaniya, they only see their houses burned and destroyed and their properties looted. People are spending from their pockets to rebuild their homes while the government did not show any care, so far."

About 55,000 Christians fled Hamdaniya after ISIL took over. According to local authority figures, about 25,000 have returned, but many are struggling to rebuild.

The Iraqi government has asked the international community for $100bn to reconstruct former ISIL-held areas, but nowhere near has been pledged.

For people like Yunidim, it will be a long time before he can call the Ninevah plains home again.

This Easter
Despite this, the community is coming together on Easter this year to pray and raise money for those in desperate need of it.

Ann Yousef, an engineer, said is concerned that things might once again turn against her community.

"We feel there is still some hope for us to live among others in this country. But there are some fears of an uncertain future for Christians in Iraq," she told us.

"I'm scared there might be another wave of extremism against Christians, especially with weak government security measures."

Security is a big word among all Iraqis, especially the Christian community, who suffered so much in such short a time.

For now though, it is time for this community to put away its fears and concerns and let the church bells ring out across the Ninevah plains in defiance and celebration of the first post-ISIL Easter.