“Welcome to Kurdistan!” our driver said with pride as we crossed the border, a procedure requiring seven different checkpoints, two changes of transport, and a heavy coating of diesel fumes in the 102° heat.
En route to Dohuk we passed a UNHCR refugee camp set aside specifically for Yazidis, with a population of 30,000 living in a massive tent city.
Deir Abuna Our first stop, was hard by the camp, at the town of Deir Abuna—”the Monastery of the Fathers.”
Eighty of this village’s 200 houses had been abandoned a few years ago when the PKK went on a rampage against Christians during the cross-border Turkish incursion. Now these homes are filled with Christian and Yazidi refugees, thanks to the heroic offer of the town’s mayor, Mochtar Zecharia.
Mayor Zecharia has a fine great garden with pomegranate trees, a covered greenhouse and a
vegetable gardens. He’s also offering a wide swath of empty ground to the refugees for planting gardens. All is needed is water (of which the nearby Tigris River has an abundance) and seeds (for which the Seeds of
Hope Nineveh will supply the need).
We had only dropped by the mayor’s house to pay our respects, but the Mayor’s wife insisted that we stay for lunch. We insisted that we really needed to get on the road. She insisted that she
would prepare something small for us. The groaning table in the picture was the compromise result.
Fr. Matthew, a priest of the Chaldean Church, dropped by to pay his respects to Fr. Dale. Fr. Matthew was a little perplexed why we didn’t speak Arabic, given that it is the lingua franca for a billion people.
He also guided us across the street where an NGO, Church in Need, had built a school for the village, and the desks had just been delivered (some assembly required). The school was built specifically for refugee kids, but when the refugees return to their homes, this will become a church school.
To Return to the Nineveh Plain…or Not. Whether or not the refugees will ever return to their homeland after ISIS is defeated is the question of the decade.
A U.N human rights officer who we met later that evening had a very pessimistic view of that topic.
“Christians in the region have lived in fear for a century,” he said, “and as a result, 90% want to leave the country entirely.
“I want to go back to the Nineveh Plain, to my home in Mosul,” he said, “but I won’t go back, nor will others without a security force in place.”
”3,500 women and children were abducted,” he said. Some had cell phones and texted the description of the banquet hall in which they were held—a place that everyone recognized. But there was nothing we could do. We have lost families, jobs, properties; our children cannot go to school. And even if we do return, ISIS will destroy everything as they leave.”
“This is the first time in 2000 years,” he reminded us, “that Christian prayers have not been said on the Nineveh Plain. Aramaic, the language of Jesus, was the first language. We need to protect Christians and preserve our shared heritage.”
“However,” he concluded, “the United States will not trade one barrel of oil for Christianity.”
A very downbeat ending to a very hard day.
Neutron Bomb. It’s very easy for me to think of refugees living in tents as living the bedouin lifestyle, perhaps something close to what they had on the Nineveh Plain. But that’s certainly not true of the Christian refugees, at least.
Many of the people we met were of the professional class: teachers, shop keepers, artisans, lawyers, professors. They had lived in houses, just like ours, some with gardens and swings for kids. They drove their Toyotas to work and sent their children off to school in the morning. They spoke a multitude of languages, included a language spoken by the people of Judea 2,000 years ago.
Deash is like a neutron bomb that exploded on the Nineveh Plain, a bomb that kills people and leaves the buildings standing. The refugees are the fallout of that explosion.
And now, having destroyed a people, Daesh seems to be hell-bent on destroying the monuments as well.
[For the meaning of the word “Daesh,” and the insult it means for ISIS see this article: http://bit.ly/1KmMSsB
16 September 2015 at 16:45
Eric: Peace to all of you. I have been following the trip via Google Earth my Mid East maps and your blog. First off, I can’t believe how desolate the area is (compared to our heaven on earth home), especially when I saw the area of the Nineveh Plains and the Monistary of St. Mathiew, which was one of the locations that Lara Logan of CBS’s 60 Minutes featured in a 13 minute doc. this last Sunday. How timely, and I am sure you have heard about it by now.
In hind site, your trip, had you had a camera crew, would have made a great doc. also. My best to you, Fr. Dale , Dale and the other three. Peace Don & Marie
18 September 2015 at 01:50
Brother Eric, welcome home.
If you have planned a time and place where you will be telling of your adventured with Father Johnson within our church or somewhere else to a room full of people, I would be honored to be invited.. I would love to here first hand your experiences while getting to the refugees, how it went while there and of course your return to safety. Brother Ron Medcalf.