06/27/2014, 00.00
LEBANON - IRAQ

Saving Qaraqosh, a Christian town torn between Kurds and ISIS

by Fady Noun
Boutros Mouchi, Syriac Catholic bishop of Nineveh, makes an appeal to ensure that Eastern Christians not be turned into "a wandering people." The town, once a safe haven, is likely to become the next battleground.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Qaraqosh, a predominantly Christian town in Iraq's Nineveh Plains, has been without water and power supply for a week. Now residents are preparing to flee a place they once considered safe as Islamist forces begin to clash with Kurdish peshmerga.

"No, we Eastern Christians are not a wandering people," said Mgr Boutros Mouchi, Syriac Catholic bishop of Nineveh, in an attempt to raise awareness locally, regionally and internationally about the need to save the town from an invasion by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which some deemed "imminent".

From Beirut, Melhem Khalaf, law professor at the University Saint-Joseph, joined the appeal just back from Iraq, where he also visited Qaraqosh.

His appeal is for all political and religious leaders and all those who care about the survival of the region's rich social fabric, history and future.

Bishop Boutros Mouchi is still in Qaraqosh, which is located about thirty kilometres from Mosul and is close to Kurdish-controlled areas.

When ISIS took Mosul, Kurdish forces moved into Kirkuk, Iraq's richest oil-rich region, extending their control over Qaraqosh as well.

Thus, the city found itself caught between rival forces fighting each other. When Qaraqosh residents asked ISIS leaders for the restauration of water and power supply, they were told: "Just ask the Kurds!"

In recent weeks, Qaraqosh, which had 38,000 residents, 35,000 of which Christian, saw its population swell with the influx of Christians fleeing Mosul, after it was seized by ISIS.

The same happened a few years ago, when Christians sought refuge in the city after fleeing the hell of Baghdad and thought they had found a place of peace.

At first, ISIS pledged not to attack the town. With the desire to reassure the people and give credit to the commitments made by Islamist forces, the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako went there in person.

Now everything has changed. Islamic extremists have begun attacking Qaraqosh, clashing with Kurdish peshmerga.

Now, along with representatives of various Eastern Churches, Mgr Mouchi is appealing to the world to save the city and its most precious asset: religious, cultural and ethnic diversity.

The Free World has to face up to its responsibilities, and not close its eyes before the violence that is currently tearing Iraq apart and that is happening or could happen, Khalaf said, under the guise of a power struggle.

As part of this mobilisation, the Vatican has been reminded through Western ambassadors in Beirut.

Everyone is convinced that the issue goes beyond the fate of a few thousands Christians and involves the future of the region.

As Khalaf put it, "Qaraqosh is a bit of all of us. To let it die is to sign the death sentence for all of us."

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