In recent months, like many concerned Westerners, in shocked silence I read news reports about the violent sweep of Islamic State (ISIS) marauders across Syria and Iraq.
ISIS’ brutal invasion began in April 2013 and still continues.
Already Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups had been spawned among the rag-tag Sunni Muslim resistance fighters seeking to overthrow Syria’s President Assad. One band of thugs, Al Nusra, had already turned its wrath against Syria’s Christian communities, such as Maalula and Kassab.
But ISIS was different – bigger, wealthier, better organized and, if possible, more brutal.
They attacked Iraq’s Yazidi and Shia villages ferociously, subjecting them to unimaginable cruelty.
Then, starting in June 2014, ISIS religiously cleansed the heartland of Christianity in Iraq – Mosul and the Nineveh plain – of Christians. In August, the Christian town of Qaraqosh was emptied of its believers.
Young Christian men who resisted the edict of “convert, pay jizya tax, or leave” were shot. The elderly and newborn babies did not fare well on the long, hot trek, since most of those who fled weren’t even allowed to carry food or water with them. The survivors eventually streamed into Erbil, Kurdistan Region’s capital city.
Kurdistan was already hosting thousands of Syrian Kurdish refugees in scattered camps. And soon Christians were sleeping in the streets, in abandoned buildings, in parks and churches and schools.
For most outside observers, it was difficult to understand the situation simply by reading the news and talking to other concerned people. As for me, I wanted to write more about the situation, but was unable to find the kind of stories I needed.
Thanks to the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, where I’m a fellow, I was able to travel to Erbil from October 28 until November 4. I visited refugees both in Erbil’s Christian sector, Ankawa, and in the Domiz Refugee Camp near Dohuk, with a population of 120,000 Syrian Kurds, some of whom have been there for three years.
Besides writing an article for Fox News, I took some photos along the way, to share with concerned people as well as my colleagues at Shai Fund (use the arrows to click through the images above).
So here are some glimpses into the life of hundreds of thousands of refugees – Christian and Muslim – in the safe haven they’ve found in Kurdistan, hosted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
- Portions of this blog first appeared in an article on the Jerusalem Post
Lela Gilbert is a writer, journalist, author and board member of Shai Fund. She is a contributor to Fox News, Jerusalem Post, National Review Online, and Weekly Standard Online. She serves as an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute, Washington, DC. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel and Southern California.
She has authored or co-authored more than sixty books including her latest release Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner (Encounter Books, December 2012) and Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (Thomas Nelson, March 2013 co-authored with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall). She also authored the award-winning Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion (Oxford University Press, 2008) with Paul Marshall and Roberta Green Ahmanson.