The toppled bell tower at The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh
The toppled bell tower at The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh

The Exodus of Qaraqosh

A small band of Kurdish and Assyrian fighters repel the first wave of attacks. Then ISIS cuts the water supply. The small town of Qaraqosh is being engulfed by the ISIS calipahte. One by one, the surrounding villages fall under ISIS control. The people in these villages are forbidden to do business with the residents of Qaraqosh. The capture of a nearby oil field pushes oil prices up. Panic sets in. No water, no trade, no oil. Consequently, the residents of Qaraqosh are on their own. The Kurdish and Assyrian fighters withdraw. They cannot defend any longer. Many thousands of people flee the town, walking along the highway to safety. It is an exodus of Biblical proportions. Finally, ISIS moves into the town. 

We go to Qaraqosh

When we go to Qaraqosh the streets are eerily quiet. It seems like a ghost town at first. Shockingly, the largest church in Iraq, The Church of the Immaculate Conception, shows signs of violent desecration. The bell tower has been pulled to the ground (see above photo), scorch marks are visible on the ceiling inside (see below photo), and the baptismal fonts look like they have been attacked with tools. A clean-up operation is underway but the scars are visible. A few blocks away we interview one of the locals on the roof of his house. Yakub is a kindly and elderly man who has recently returned to his home following the defeat of ISIS on the battlefield. He is full of indignation at what has happened to him. 

The scorched ceiling inside The Church of the Immaculate Conception
The scorched ceiling inside The Church of the Immaculate Conception

Yakub’s house was taken over by ISIS fighters and used as a base. Yakub shows us around. On the stairs, a fresco of The Virgin and Child has been picked at with a knife. As a result, the faces are missing. For ISIS, such imagery is idolatrous. Yakub tells us that he will not repair the fresco because it will serve as a reminder. Despite the damage done to his home, Yakub is happy to be back: “Praise be to God, we have returned to this soil. We must return to our soil.” According to the latest reports, approximately 20,000 people have returned to Qaraqosh since the town was liberated. Watch the interview with Yakub below. 

A new bakery brings hope

Like a lot of the Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain, shops in Qaraqosh were looted and destroyed by ISIS. They are still in need of repair. Small businesses are the lifeblood of this region and must be so again if returnees are to thrive. With this in mind, we are building a new bakery in the town which will create 8 new jobs. Above all, we want to help the Christians get back up on their feet.

Funding for this particular project has been awarded to us by Highway One Trust. This brilliant organisation specialises in supporting those who are following long roads and difficult paths towards long-term and lasting change. On the ground, we are partnering with a local Iraqi charity called Friends of Youth Forum. Likewise, they have an excellent reputation. We believe the bakery will bring hope to the residents of Qaraqosh and encourage others to invest in the town. We will share progress reports and photos of this unique project in the coming weeks. 

Nineveh SEED

One of challenges of working in northern Iraq is the ever-changing security situation. While it has no caliphate from which to mount attacks, ISIS is still a threat. Furthermore, Shia militias are taking control of recaptured land, some of it belonging to the Christians. Also, the Kurds are locked in a bitter dispute with rivals over land and yearn for independence. All this has created uncertainty. 

However, this week the Interior Minister of Iraq announced that 13,000 police officers, many who lost their jobs following the ISIS incursion, will be reinstated. This is a significant move by the Iraqi federal government. It shows a need to regain control of the north of the country. According to one newspaper, the Interior Minister will impose ‘sanctions’ on police officers who do not uphold the law. We work with carefully selected partners in areas where there is good security. We welcome this latest effort to improve security and stability in the region. This will make projects like the building of the bakery in Qaraqosh possible in other towns and villages still struggling in the aftermath of war.

Please help and make a donation 

To support Nineveh SEED or any of our other projects please make a donation via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Alternatively, you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom. American supporters wishing to make a donation can do so here.