My heart melt within me on hearing how homeless our brethren are becoming..
“Now the smoke has gone from the Nineveh Plain, it is clear that Islamic State fighters dealt one final, vicious blow to the Christian population before surrendering its occupied towns: by systematically setting fire to their homes, thousands have become practically uninhabitable. Suddenly, for many Christians, the prospect of returning home seems further away than ever before.
“This is it. Everything else is gone,” says one man, as, with a loud bang, he slams shut the door of his car. The only things he has managed to salvage from his house are a pile of books, a pair of shoes and some family photos.
We are in Ashti Camp in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. This man has just returned from his home in Bartella, one of the recently liberated Christian towns on the Nineveh Plain.
In the summer of 2014, IS fighters forced this Iraqi Christian and his family to flee, leaving all their belongings behind. Over the past two years, other families left Iraq, but his family stayed, dreaming of one day returning to their beloved town. But now the dream has been shattered.
“Everything is gone. We have nothing left. Why should we stay in this country any longer?” he says. “We have lost all hope. Is there any country willing to take us in? Please, tell me which one; we will be on the next plane out of here.”
When, in October, several Christian towns on the Nineveh Plain were liberated, there was an initial outburst of relief and celebration among the displaced Christians in Erbil. Suddenly their dreams of returning home, of having a future in their cherished motherland, seemed within reach.
But over the last few weeks, priests, militia and Christian volunteers have been mapping the degree of devastation in the Christian towns. The results have been increasingly disappointing.
In large Christian settlements like Bartella, Qaraqosh and Karamles, about 80 per cent of the houses have been either completely destroyed by Allied bombs and mortars, or burned out by ISIS. The result: in their current state, they are uninhabitable.
One of the volunteers, who has been assessing the damage in Qaraqosh, speaks of a well-coordinated path of destruction left behind by IS.
“In most houses, all the rooms have been burned out completely,” he says. “Except, strangely enough, the kitchens. It is clear this has been an organised strategy.”