Ainkawa, the Christians suburb in Erbil has absorbed 120,000 Christians. Christians that fled their ancient lands. They come from places with names like the Ninevah plains that remind us of our Bible readings.
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 raiding their businesses and homes.
Yesterday, I sat with a woman in her early twenties. She is a physics teacher by profession. Her family left Mosul and fled to Erbil when ISIS came and took over. 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 were they to run? But above all she told me very simply that they 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 Ninevah 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 upon which they can sleep at night. They ask me, "How long can we live in the sanctuary? Winter is coming and where shall we 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. At night he had to sleep 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 behind. Up to about 4 weeks ago they heard from them, but now there is 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.
The Yezidi community have also fled. Only about 5,000 are 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 20 years old. Their villages were attacked by ISIS and they fled for the Sinjar mountains. However, ISIS had set up a checkpoint where they separated the men from the women and the girls. They said that they killed the men 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) then came in and each chose a girl. The 14 year old told us that a senior ISIS leader 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. They beat her to try and force her to convert to Islam. She refused so he gave her as a gift to his friend. One of the wives 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.
Pray for hope in a place where there is so little hope left.