Chris­tians tell tales of sur­vival in ‘caliphate’

Kuwait Times - - FROM THE ARABIC PRESS -

They were threat­ened, forced to spit on a cru­ci­fix or con­vert to Is­lam, but a hand­ful of Iraqi Chris­tians mirac­u­lously sur­vived more than two years un­der Is­lamic State group rule. When the ji­hadists swept across the Nin­eveh Plain in north­ern Iraq in Au­gust 2014 and told Chris­tians to con­vert, pay tax, leave or die, around 120,000 of them fled. Now that Iraqi forces have re­taken many of those ar­eas around the city of Mo­sul, sto­ries are emerg­ing of those who did not get a chance to leave and faced one of the three other op­tions. Is­mail Matti was 14 when IS mil­i­tants stormed his home­town of Bar­talla, east of Mo­sul. He waited for rel­a­tives who had al­ready fled to come back for him and his sick mother, Jan­dar Nasi, but no­body did.

They tried to flee in taxis but were turned around twice by IS and ended up in a Mo­sul prison. “There were Shi­ite peo­ple crammed in a cell next to ours-they took one, shot him in the head and dragged his body in front of us,” he said. “They told my mother the same thing would hap­pen to me if we re­fused to con­vert. So we con­verted,” Is­mail re­counted from a church-run shel­ter in the Kurdish cap­i­tal Arbil. The pair went back to Bar­talla and were then sent to the vil­lage of Shurikhan, on the western out­skirts of Mo­sul. “All our neigh­bors were Daesh,” he said, us­ing an Arab acro­nym for IS. “They would come to check if I was fol­low­ing the sharia (Is­lamic law).”

Reign of ter­ror

“If they found that I hadn’t been to the mosque to pray, I some­times got lashes,” Is­mail said. He suf­fered the same fate in their next tem­po­rary home in Bazwaya, east of Mo­sul. Is­mail would some­times get food from friendly res­i­dents but his mother never left the house. Jan­dar, who suf­fers from chronic mi­graines, was re­luc­tant to tell their story as she sat qui­etly on a bed in the Arbil shel­ter. Her dark, haunted gaze some­times sud­denly changed into a broad, lov­ing smile di­rected at her son, as he re­counted their odyssey un­der IS’s reign of ter­ror. “This boy is the most beau­ti­ful gift ever. He and God and Mary saved us from death. We will al­ways be to­gether,” she said.

Zar­ifa Bakoos Daddo stayed in Qaraqosh, once Iraq’s largest Chris­tian town, with her sick 90-year-old hus­band when IS ve­hi­cles hur­tled in. “On a Wed­nes­day, his con­di­tion wors­ened, we took him to hospi­tal. On the Thurs­day he was dead,” said Zar­ifa, a 77-year-old with gnarled hands and de­cay­ing teeth. She lived through more than two years of IS oc­cu­pa­tion of Qaraqosh in a house with her el­derly friend Badriya. “All that time I stayed with Badriya, we didn’t see any of our peo­ple, only those fel­lows,” Zar­ifa said of the IS mil­i­tants. “They would bring us food oc­ca­sion­ally, leav­ing it at the door,” she said. “The older men used to tell us not to worry, that we were like sis­ters to them, but the younger ones were trou­ble­some.”

Told to con­vert

They were briefly taken to a prison in Mo­sul and held there with di­vorced women and wid­ows, but even­tu­ally brought back to their house in Qaraqosh. “One day, one of them came ask­ing for money and gold. He poked his ri­fle into my ribs and said ‘You have to give to us’,” she said. Zar­ifa handed over the $300 she had and Badriya gave some 15-carat gold.

“One time, a young one, maybe 20 or 21, came and said we should con­vert. I told him we had our be­liefs and they had theirs,” she re­called. “He told me to spit on a pic­ture of the Vir­gin Mary and a cru­ci­fix. I re­fused but he made me. The whole time I was telling God in my heart that I did not mean any of this,” she said. —AFP

IRBIL: Iraqi Chris­tian Jan­dar (cen­ter) smiles as she meets with her fam­ily mem­bers af­ter more than two years un­der the rule of the Is­lamic State group. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.