ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – In a show of strength and resiliency, Christians across the Kurdistan Region and Ninevah held Easter mass on Sunday.
Hundreds gathered freely in churches on Saturday and Sunday in Erbil, Koya, Sulaimani, and other cities in the Kurdistan Region to celebrate Easter.
Additionally, local groups and schools held Easter egg hunts for children, including in camps.
For many, this year’s Easter Sunday celebrations mark a significant milestone in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) and their destructive ideology.
The Syriac Catholic Church of Qaraqosh, 20 miles from Mosul, and the Mar Gewargis (St George) Chaldean Catholic church in Tel Esqof, north of Mosul, celebrated Easter for the first time since the extremist group took over in 2014.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters dislodged the militants from Tel Esqof a week after it had fallen, in August 2014. On Sunday, they stood guard around the church.
However, in Qaraqosh, while some were willing to risk returning to their town, where IS slogans still mark certain homes, most remained in Erbil where they were forced to flee three years ago, unwilling to return due to security concerns.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reiterated its commitment to protecting religious and ethnic minorities in the Region in its Easter message to Christians on Sunday.
“We wish our Christian brothers and sisters a peaceful Easter,” the statement read.
“[We] hope that the displaced Christians will mark the coming future festive occasions with dignity and respect in their places of origin,” the KRG report added.
In all, 100,000 Christians from across the Ninevah Plains are estimated to have abandoned their farmlands, villages, and towns.
According to Bashar Warda, a Chaldean bishop in Erbil, there were 1.3 million Christians in Iraq in 2003.
Since then, the Iraqi Christian population has decreased by one million, with hundreds more leaving each month.
“It’s very hard to maintain a Christian presence now,” Warda said.
Reporting by G. H. Renaud
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany