AIN KAWA, Iraq (CNS) — Abu and Um Sabah had to trade a tent anchored in a soft, grassy patch in a park for a roughly hewn, five-story unfinished cement building as they sat out their forced displacement by Islamic State militants for a second year.
A colorful rug tapestry of the Last Supper dominated the bare concrete room they called home, with a small picture of the Virgin Mary on another wall to keep their spirits lifted. A son, his wife and three young children shared another room close by in the complex located in this Christian enclave on the edge of Irbil.
As Iraqi Christians remember the second anniversary of their forced displacement from their ancestral homeland, some have expressed frustration and weariness that is taking a long time to liberate Mosul and the Ninevah Plains from the Islamic State.
When he lived near Qaraqosh, Abu Sabah had a prosperous job as a photographer, with his own studio. Now he is tired, wearied by Iraq’s scathing 122-degree summer temperatures and the big wait for his homeland to be rid of Islamist extremists.
“Life here is hard for everyone,” Um Sabah told Catholic News Service. “The electricity is unstable and the concrete surroundings are uncomfortable and depressing. Sharing bathrooms and kitchens with hundreds of other people is a real challenge, too.
“We really want to go back home, once the U.S. coalition, the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces remove the militants,” she added.
But Abu Sabah injected some realism into the conversation: “It might take a year before everything can be secured in the liberated areas, and infrastructure will need to be rebuilt.”
In Jordan, one of their sons, Saleh Sabah, waits with his young family, hoping they will be accepted for resettlement to Australia. But the wait has been difficult for his family as well.
Saleh is among a growing number of Christians who continue to leave Iraq, saying that as long as Islamic State militants are present, they do not feel safe remaining in their homeland. Jordan has housed about 7,000 Iraqi Christians from the militant takeover of Mosul and the Ninevah Plains.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad issued a statement marking the second anniversary of the forcible displacement of Christian families, saying that “peace and goodwill for all of humanity must be pursued.”
He reminded Christians that their ancestors not only planted churches and monasteries in Iraq over the past 1,600 years, but helped Iraq to prosper.
“We, as their descendants, have to protect what we inherited over thousands of years, including land, history, language, values and spirituality. It is our mission to entrust that the light of God will ultimately disperse the darkness and his peace will prevail,” t0he patriarch said in a written statement.
“On this painful anniversary, the terrorism has not been defeated yet; the conflicts are not over; violations of human rights are still growing at different levels; the efforts for national reconciliation came to a halt,” Patriarch Sako said. “In spite of all that, Iraqis (of different backgrounds) are still hoping for a better future, especially after the latest victories that have been achieved” in pushing back Islamic State.
He wrote of the importance of “speeding up the liberation of Mosul and the Ninevah Plains with enough protection for the people to return and settle in their homes.”
He also called on Iraqis to refrain from carrying out acts of revenge and for political and religious authorities to deny giving legitimacy or material support to extremist groups.