Monday, October 20, 2014

Say a Prayer for Hope

Ainkawa, the Christians suburb in Erbil has absorbed 120 000 Christians. Christians that fled their ancient lands. They come from places with names that remind of our Bible readings like the Nineveh plains.

Iraq has not been an easy place for this minority to carve out a life with faith and family. They speak of being displaced and persecuted since 2003. They also explain that many have fled a number of times; from Bagdad to Mosul, from Mosul to Erbil. This community has been in these lands for over two thousand years. Yet they feel that their country and even their very own neighbors have abandoned them and handed them over to Isis. Their country did not protect them and in many cases their neighbors welcomed and assisted Isis in the raiding of their businesses and homes.

Yesterday I sat with a Christian woman in her early twenties. She is a physics teacher by profession. Her family left Mosul when Isis came and took over and they fled to Erbil. They have lost everything and are living with a local family after 3 days of living on the streets. When Isis came within 20 minutes of the Erbil airport, she told me we were so scared. Where will we run to? But above all she told me very simply, we are sad. They lost everything. Their house and all it's contents, the family car and all their savings.

In Duhuk, a place closest to the northern most part of the Nineveh plains many of the minorities have gathered and are living in extremely difficult conditions. Some are what is considered lucky, as the Chaldean church opened it's doors and they now live in every part of the church including the sanctuary. Families crowd around me and welcome me into their living spaces. They show me how they are living with a water tank outside the church where they can pour water over their bodies near the church entrance to wash, and the piles of mattresses in the corner of the sanctuary which they can sleep on at night. They ask me how long can we live in the sanctuary? Winter is coming and where shall they go? Most of all they tell me that Isis may not have caught them this time but may catch them the next time.

A family from Mosul told me that Isis came and told them to convert or pay a tax (jizra) for being a Christian minority. If not they would die. The woman told me how her son, a doctor, was caught by Isis and told this with the group. That he saw many being slain before him. That at night he slept on a mattress soaked in blood from those that had died before him. Luckily, he survived but her other son was killed by Isis. They fled and had to leave some of their elderly. Up to about 4 weeks ago they heard from them. But now silence.

A family from a Christian village told me that they heard from the surrounding villages that Isis was coming and ran. One old woman said she was the last one to leave and as she left Isis was coming into the village. They raided the homes and busineses. Took what they wanted and left. Then the surrounding villagers entered and plundered what was left.

They all tell me that there are no Jews left in Iraq. The Saturday people are gone. And now it seems that it is the turn if the Sunday people to be pushed out. Them and other minorities, like the Yezidis are together in this fight to survive.

The Yezidi community have also fled. Only about 5000 are left hiding in the Sinjar mountains while the rest are living mostly around Duhuk in camps. We visited the Chanke camp and spoke with doctors from the community that are assisting the girls that were raped. One clinic has about 80 girls that were kidnapped and sexually abused. Not only do they need gynaecogical assistance but they also need psycho-social assistance. Some of the girls are suicidal from the experience. The need is overwhelming and the pain deep.

In Khaniki where the Yezidis are all living in camps near Duhuk we met two girls that had been captured by Isis and after some time released. One was 14 and the other is 20.  Their villages were attacked by Isis and they fled for the Sinjar mountains. However, Isis had set up a checkpoint and separated the men from the women and the girls. The said that the men they killed on the spot and the women, especially the un married were taken to another place, like Mosul. There they were kept with hundreds of other girls.

Isis jihadis (Syrian and Iraqi) came in and chose a girl. The 14 year old told us that a senior Isis leader Imam came and choose a 12 year old and raped her in front of them.

The twenty year old said that she was taken by a man with another wife. She had taken her sister's baby in the hope that they would think she was married but they did not believe her. They beat her to try and force her to convert to Islam so she could marry. She refused and he gave her as a gift to his friend. One of the wives of the friend gave her a phone to call her brother and he arranged for someone to find and rescue her.  She lost 35 members of her family and cannot find them.

Who will help them if you and I don't?

Charmaine Hedding
MSc (Dev. Mgmt)
Shai Fund