Christians of Mosul choose safety in Erbil over returning home

"More than 90 percent of the Christians who fled Mosul do not think of returning. They feel safer in Ankawa, the Christian district of Erbil, and have better job opportunities."
The sun sets behind destroyed buildings in the west side of Mosul, Iraq on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. (Photo: AP)
The sun sets behind destroyed buildings in the west side of Mosul, Iraq on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. (Photo: AP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Chaldean Bishop of Alqosh, Paul Thabet Habib Yousif Al Mekko, has stated that Christians from Mosul who now reside in Erbil are not considering returning to Mosul at this time. "They feel safe in Erbil and have opportunities to work," he said.

According to a report by the Vatican's Agenzia Fides news agency, it has been a decade since jihadist militants of the Islamic State (IS) first raised their black flags in Mosul, causing government troops to withdraw from the city. Before the arrival of IS, at least 1,200 Christian families lived in Mosul.

In 2017, Mosul was liberated from IS control. Since then, only a few Christian refugees have returned to their homes.

"There are about 30 to 40 families, often not complete. Many are elderly. Several families come and go from other places, they do not represent a stable presence that can be noticed," Bishop Mekko confirmed to Fides.

The jihadist conquest of Mosul marked the beginning of a period of trauma and pain, altering the city's profile, once known for its coexistence of different faith communities.

Mosul is described as the cradle of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Two decades ago, the city had more than 100,000 Christians living peacefully alongside Sunni, Shiite, Yazidi, and other minority communities.

Following the US-led intervention that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, the Christian population began to decline amid rising sectarian violence.

In June 2014, many Christian families had already fled Mosul before it fell entirely to IS militants. On June 12, the then Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Amel Shimon Nona, confirmed that the vast majority of the 1,200 Christian families had left the city, seeking refuge in the Nineveh Plain villages such as Kramles and Tilkif, just a few dozen kilometers from Mosul.

Archbishop Nona also refuted claims of IS attacks on churches. "Our church, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, was looted by gangs of thieves," he told Fides. "But the Muslim families living nearby called the Islamist militiamen, who intervened and stopped the looting. They even took over the church to prevent further thefts."

In the weeks that followed, the exodus of Christians from Mosul continued. Their homes, along with those of Shiites, were marked for expropriation by IS militants.

During the jihadist occupation, two nuns and three teenagers were temporarily kidnapped. In January 2015, ten elderly Christians were expelled from Mosul after refusing to renounce Christianity.

During its occupation by IS, Mosul was declared the Iraqi capital of the Islamic Caliphate.

By June 2015, IS controlled a third of Iraq and nearly half of Syria, posing a threat to Libya and receiving support from dozens of armed groups across the Middle East and Africa. The military operation to liberate Mosul from IS in 2017 lasted several months.

"After seven years," Bishop Mekko told Fides, "more than 90 percent of the Christians who fled Mosul do not think of returning. They feel safer in Ankawa, the Christian district of Erbil, and have better job opportunities. The city has changed significantly, and they no longer recognize it."

During IS's entry into Mosul, thousands of Christians lived under siege, with their homes marked for seizure by IS members. The military operation to free Mosul from IS control took six months in 2017.