Ewelina U. Ochab
I write on human rights and persecution of minorities around the world
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
In November 2016, I visited some of the then recently liberated areas on Ninevah Plains: Quaragosh, Karamless and Bartallah, towns that Daesh took over in August 2014. It was a difficult trip. Despite having researched the situation under Daesh reign for multiple months before my trip, I was not prepared for what I saw. The area that used to be full of life, became a ghost town. Houses, churches, schools and shops were looted, burnt down and damaged by Daesh. The perseverance of Daesh to destroy the area was beyond imagination. It was not enough for Daesh to force the Christian communities to flee. It was not enough for Daesh to enslave girls and women or forcibly recruit boys and men to fight as Daesh fighters. It was not enough for Daesh to take over all possessions belongings to Christians. Daesh
destroyed all signs of Christianity in the towns that I visited. Crosses were broken, the statutes of Jesus and Holy Mary were destroyed, Holy Bibles and books were burnt. As if Daesh wanted to destroy all evidence of Christians ever living in the area.
Back then in November 2016, I remember seeing some people visiting the villages. They were coming to see what was left of their homes. My big hope was that they would start returning to the towns, start rebuilding their lives. However, as recently reported by BBC, this is not the case. Half a year later, people are still not returning to their homes. Places like Quaraqosh that used to be a home for over 50,000 people, remains a ghost town haunted by the evil of Daesh crimes.
The recent reports have not given me much hope for the future of Christians in Iraq. However, there is some hope. This hope is Teleskof.
Over the recent weeks, I have been following the work carried out by the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, an organisation aiding Christians in the Middle East. Teleskof is one of the towns where they provide assistance to ensure that people can return and restart their lives. A massive project considering the fact that in the first part of 2016, Teleskof was a ghost town (as Quaragosh and other towns still are till this day). The question then is how can a ghost town become a home for Christians yet again after Daesh? How can a town without running water, electricity or infrastructure be turned into a home yet again? Juliana Taimoorazy, the founder of the organisation and senior fellow at Philos Project, explained the (still ongoing) process.
First, the area has to be cleared. This includes removing the ruble, cartridges from bullets, flags of Daesh and any other reminders of Daesh ever being in the area. As Ms Taimoorazy mentioned, as Teleskof was being cleaned, people started retuning to Teleskof. Approximately 430 families have already retuned and this was still before Teleskof had water access or electricity.
Second, water access has to be granted. This stage has been completed and all families that have returned to Teleskof now have access to water.