Monday 24 October 2016

Christians “cautiously joyful” with liberation of Nineveh Plains

This is a full transcript, in the original English, of my conversation with Swedish Assyrian journalist and activist Nuri Kino about the liberation of Qaraqosh and other Christian towns and villages in the Mossul region. Read the news story, in Portuguese, here.

Transcrição integral, no inglês original, da minha entrevista ao jornalista e activista sueco/assírio sobre a libertação de Qaraqosh e de outras vilas e aldeias cristãs na região de Mossul. A reportagem está aqui.

We have had conflicting reports about the situation in Qaraqosh. From your information, what is the situation on the ground?
The news regarding the Christians is that Bartella, a town of about 30 thousand inhabitants prior to ISIS, has been fully liberated. We have received videos and pictures of the church bells ringing. That is of course very satisfying.

When it comes to Qaraqosh we received pictures of the main hospital being liberated, the town hall buildings and also the Iraqi Army headquarters. But it is very hard to know if it is totally liberated or not. We are also receiving conflicting information about that.

I just spoke to two of the priests from Qaraqosh and they also have no full information, but the Iraqi army and some of the Christian forces are supposed to be inside Qaraqosh.

Two days ago we received information that it had been liberated. Then information came a couple of hours later saying that there were about 20 ISIS suicide bombers and snipers left in Qaraqosh and they were shooting people from the rooftops. Also, one of the biggest problems is the mines. There are a lot of mines around the city, both anti-personnel mines and street mines.

But we believe that Qaraqosh will be liberated today. [Saturday 21st October]

How does that make you and other Christians feel?
Qaraqosh is about 70% Syriac Catholic and 30% Syriac Orthodox and I am Syriac Orthodox. For us there is no difference whether it is in southeast Turkey, where I was born, or in Syria or Iraq, or in Iran or in Lebanon. We are all the same nation, the same ethnicity, the same people with different names: Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean...

Of course, after more than two years of ISIS in our home towns, we are very happy to see it, though we are also careful and cautious, because we never know how things will turn.

Look at what happened in Kirkuk yesterday... All of a sudden sleeping terrorist cells in Kirkuk started to hit the street, more than 20 suicide bombers. They also kidnapped some people and threatened to kill them, and battles are ongoing in Kirkuk, which is also a bit Iraqi city.

So I would say that we are cautiously joyful.

Also, after the liberation there is a lot of work to be done for our people to return to the Nineveh plane, where Bartella and Qaraqosh are. The Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson is presenting a new resolution in the European Parliament about self-administration in the Nineveh Plane and two other provinces in Northern Iraq, so that these people can feel that they get their dignity back and rule their own areas, or at least get some power in the administrations, so that the inhabitants can feel confident to come back.

Also it is about dignity, so as to get their dignity back. The same thing is going on in Washington DC, there are political movements and political solutions – hopefully – so that people can move back.

In Iraq, before the fall of Saddam, approximately 1.3 million Christians lived there. After the fall of Mossul, we don't know, but we estimate that there are more not more than 250 thousand left.

So more than one million have already left the country, and people are emigrating every day, because they lost hope in the world leaders to protect them. But we do have some hope in what is happening these days, in the liberation of Nineveh and Mossul, and we also have hope in the political solutions that will be on the table over the coming weeks.

Are Christians afraid to be caught in between Baghdad and the Kurds, over who actually controls this region...
That has been going on since the fall of Saddam, it’s nothing new. It’s not a question of being afraid, we know it’s a fact, it’s been a fact for a decade now. So that is why we are asking for self-administration, so as not to be caught in the middle.

Will Bagdad and Kurdistan accept that idea?
Well we hope on the European Union and on Washington and the UN.

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