Lara Zara is the memorable name of Alqosh’s disputed female mayor. Alqosh is a village in the Nineveh Plain, the ancestral home of Iraq’s dwindling Christian community. Different factions contest Lara’s legitimacy in the mayoral role. As a charity seeking to support the people returning to the Nineveh Plain we can only seek to work with whoever is in power at a given time. The conflict over her role further reinforces the need to work with the local churches. They appear to be the most stable institutions in the region.
In her interview with us, Lara did not pull any punches about the lack of support for the Christians. Talking about a neighbouring village, she says: “Teleskuf was restored better than before by the church, not the government.” To hammer the point home, she adds: “If it was the government, Teleskuf wouldn’t look like it does today”.
Despite huge amounts of assistance from the West, the Iraqi government is doing very little to help the persecuted Christians. Lara says, with unequivocal conviction, that money given to politicians in Baghdad “does not reach the Christians”. She concludes that the best way to help is through the churches, something we have known for a long time.
Lara tells us that 85% of the region’s economy relies on agriculture. However, she believes that with proper investment other industries could flourish. During our recent trip to the Nineveh Plain, we spoke with a number of church leaders about the possibilities for job-creation. We have since published a costed programme of projects. An outline of the programme is on our website here (if you would like to find out more about our Nineveh SEED programme, please call us on 01730 267 673).
We are also looking into tourism – there are many important pilgrimage sites in the Nineveh Plain, including the tomb of Nahum the Old Testament prophet. St Matthew’s Monastery is particularly worth visiting. Founded in 363AD, the monastery sheltered Christians fleeing the persecution of Rome’s last pagan Emperor. In 2015, victims of ISIS were reported to have taken refuge there.
Weeks after we interviewed Lara, she was removed by a Baghdad-backed rival. We do not know exactly what happened, however we know she is safe. As Lara herself said, in a region torn apart by political factionalism, it is more effective to work with churches. During the dark days of the ISIS caliphate, the churches did more to shelter persecuted Christians than the UN. In this time of restoration and renewal, we will continue to work closely with our church partners on the ground.
Voices of Iraq
As some of you will know, we premiered our new film, Voices of Iraq, at Westminster Abbey earlier this month. We are now offering screenings of the film in support of our Nineveh SEED programme. Please contact us if you would like to show the film – firstname.lastname@example.org / 01730 267 673.
Supporting our work in the Middle East
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