As Easter nears, Christian refugees pray for peace and return to their homes in Nineveh

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By Rudaw
Parishioners attend a church service in Alqosh town in Nineveh Plains. Photo: Rudaw video
ALQOSH, Iraq — The past two Easters have been anything but ordinary for Aniseh Marqus and her husband of 57 years, Jamil, who fled their beloved home in Batma in Nineveh province over two years ago.

They were lucky, she says, that they managed to escape at all. Many were left behind facing an unknown fate at the hands of the militants.

“They bombed the church in our neighborhood and destroyed everything around it. My home was nearby so naturally it was destroyed too,” she says.

“I wish I could return home, but I have no home left really,” says Marqus who has shared a simple room with her husband for the past two years in Alqosh.

Over 500 Christians have taken shelter in Alqosh since ISIS attacked their communities in Batma and Talsqof in mid-2014.

Since then some have returned, but many have left the country all together for a safer life elsewhere and many more are still displaced across Kurdish controlled territories including in the Christian township of Ainkawa which has embraced over 100,000 Christian refugees.

Iraq was home to more than 1.5 million Christians before the country plunged into a sectarian conflict in the mid-2000. But many left the country after systematic attacks on their neighborhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Once a safe heaven for the Christians in the Middle East, the Iraqi capital has increasingly failed to protect the security of its nearly half a million Christian community, the majority of whom have migrated to Europe since 2003.

According to reports from the office of Human Rights Committee in Kurdistan Region, the number of Christians in Baghdad has decreased to around 90,000 over the past decade with many of the young Christians leaving for exile.

The Iraqi government has in the past offered arms and combat training to Christian recruits who have volunteered to join a new force based in the disputed Nineveh province. Also the Kurdish Peshmerga troops have patrolled large parts of the Nineveh Plains which include many Christian localities.

For the time being, however, the Marqus family is planning to celebrate their third Easter in Alqosh together with other refugees and other Christians in the town who have showed them support and offered comfort in exile.

“The essential principle of Easter is not fasting after all,” says the local priest Gabiri Georges. “It is doing well.”