“FOR THE FIRST WEEK, MANY PEOPLE WERE SLEEPING IN CHURCHYARDS WITHOUT SHELTER, USING EACH OTHER’S STOMACHS AS PILLOWS.”
remembers having to climb out of the car and crawl beneath it at one point of their exodus to avoid the gunfire exchanged between ISIS and the Peshmerga. Christians from the major towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Tel Afar, as well as from villages all across the Christian plain of Nineveh, are now scattered across cities in Iraqi Kurdistan, such as Erbil, Dohuk, Kirkuk and Sulimaniyeh. At a distance of 46 miles, Erbil is the nearest Kurdish city to Qaraqosh and, therefore, received the largest
number of displaced people, currently estimated at more than 60,000. Most of them descended on the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa over the span of just a couple of days. Because of the overpopulation, living conditions for displaced Christians are the worst in Erbil. Any and all resources were tapped so as to offer the displaced shelter and food. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, the Ephremite and Franciscan sisters, the Little Sisters of Jesus as well as Chaldean and Syriac priests and bishops were all mobilized. For the first week, many people were sleeping in churchyards without shelter, using each other’s stomachs as pillows. They complained of the scourge of ants at night and of the strong, beating sun during the day. Within a week, all had been given temporary housing. Tent cities sprouted around most churches in the main cities of Iraqi Kurdistan. Social centers were converted into improvised shelters. After the first week, the Kurdish authorities lent some schools in a bid to ease the situation. In Erbil, several unfinished buildings have been used as temporary shelters, where improvised tents made of tarpaulins and plastic sheeting have been set up to offer families some semblance of privacy. In one such unfinished building, the living conditions deteriorate markedly as you descend each
floor, like Dante’s Inferno. In the basement, people subsist in poorly lighted quarters separated by plastic sheets. They live with the constant smell of their own excrement, which is collected in an open sewer not far from their dwellings. Their morale has eroded so severely that many simply aspire to attain living quarters on the first or second floor of the same building. Around camps and churches across Iraqi Kurdistan, an improvised network of commerce and retail has sprung up. Displaced Christians have opened little shops for the new tent communities. Some offer ice-cutting services. Others cut hair. The gold merchants of the major cities have seen a boon in gold at rock bottom prices; Christians who have arrived are desperate to liquidate their few heirlooms in what has quickly become a buyer’s market.
t night, above this landscape of abjection reigns a scattering of glimmering crosses. On the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, celebrated on 14 September, Iraqi Christians erect illuminated crosses on top of their buildings and leave them there for several weeks. The crosses they left behind in Qaraqosh and Bartella have most likely been taken down or destroyed, but crosses seem to have redoubled across the recently overpopulated Christian enclaves of Iraqi Kurdistan.
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF CNEWA
The official publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)