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There will be no Christians in liberated Mosul. The counteroffensive to regain control of the city seen through the eyes of those forced to flee

The regular army’s offensive to liberate the Iraqi city from the hands of the Islamic State is raging. From a distance we follow the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and refugees who fled the city after the arrival of Isis in June 2014. Among them, tens of thousands of Christians who sought refuge in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan await the end of the battle before deciding whether to return. Dalida Gorgees Burtrus and her Christian friends of the tailoring project "Rafidin", active in Amman, have no intention of returning to Mosul. They are learning to cut and sew, hoping to build a new life in the USA, Canada or Australia. Many Christians share their same hopes. There will be no Christians still living in liberated Mosul.

foto SIR/Marco Calvarese

The battle of Mosul is ongoing: the offensive for the liberation of the Iraqi capital from the grips of the Islamic State of Caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, launched past October 17 by the regular army, continues without difficulties, amidst pitfalls and traps. After a month of fierce combat the government forces – with the support of the international coalition led by the US and of 45 thousand men including soldiers, and Kurdish and Shiite militia – have managed to liberate only 5 of the 80 districts of the city, in one of them armed clashes are still ongoing. Kokichli, al Intisar and al Sheima, according to military reports, have been “completely cleared”, while the areas of al Salam and al Qadissyah are still witnessing “heavy fighting.” Dalida Gorgees Burtrus, born in Mosul 25 years ago, is familiar with these places. The news from the front provide accounts of an ongoing war, which make her increasingly want to keep away from her homeland. She fled Mosul in June 2014, immediately after the invasion of the Islamic State. Now she lives as a refugee with her family in Amman. Welcomed by the local Church, Dalida, Catholic of Chaldean rite, spends her days, in a small fashion atelier located in the area of Jabal Webde, fruit of a project promoted by the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem. With 11 friends from Mosul, Kirkurk and Baghdad, she tries to bring to life the colours and fabrics of the Middle-Eastern tradition, and most of all, to mend the tear of hope destroyed by the violence of war and of the Islamic State. Their life today is intertwined with the story of their “fashion label”, significantly named “Rafidin – Made by Iraqi girls”. “Rafidin” means the “two rivers”, a term commonly employed to refer to the Tigris and the Euphates, the two waterways in Iraq.

Today, to this Iraqi young woman with a degree in information technology, the battle of Mosul brings back painful memories regarding events that broke out long before the arrival of Daesh in 2014.

“In Mosul we have been suffering since 2003, long before the arrival of the Islamic State – said the young girl taking a pause from her tailoring work – we were victims of earlier wars, of the confessional clashes sparked off after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 – and since 2014, by the arrival of Daesh and terrorism.

We fled many times in the past years, to find shelter in the Nineveh Plains, where there are many Christian villages.” The images become more vivid as her memory goes to June 2014, when al Baghdadi’s militia entered Mosul. “In those days – Dalida recalls – we lost everything we had – our homes, our loved ones, our school, jobs, friends… In the area in which we lived, on the outskirts of the city, the militia immediately cut off the water supply and electricity, and they blocked the arrival of foodstuffs. We fled bringing only what we were wearing. We were initially stationed in an area outside the urban centre, as we believed that the Iraqi army would soon regain control of the city. But we waited in vain. In the meantime the Christian population was caught in a tight grip under the threat of converting to Islam or paying a protection tax. Death was the only alternative. The flight from Mosul and neighbouring villages was tragic; the streets were crowded with people, families fleeing however they could. All this took place under the menacing threat of ISIS. We were prepared for everything, knowing that escaping was our only option. At the beginning we sought shelter in the north, in Kurdistan, but it lacked appropriate living conditions, so we decided to go to Jordan in the hope of rebuilding a dignified life.”

Today a battle is being fought to liberate Mosul, but to Dalida and her friends it’s not enough to rekindle their yearning to return. In fact, they said, “we don’t have a clear picture of what is happening. One thing we know for sure:

in Mosul everything has been torn to the ground.

The houses that are still standing were set to fire inside by the militia on the run. They continue spreading death and destruction. Should we return we would have to start all over again.

No. We will not return to Mosul. We will emigrate.

We filed a request to the competent authorities of some Countries, including the US, Canada, and Australia. We have been waiting for two years. We hope to leave soon and we hope that the tailoring techniques we are learning will be the keys to a better life abroad. Here we are refugees, we are denied a working permit. We aren’t allowed to attend public schools. What could be our future here? That’s the reason why all Christians want to leave.” A lot of suffering but also deep faith.

“Despite the pain we never lost our faith in God. We knew that God wouldn’t abandon us, and so it was.

In the past our Church wept over the violent death of her faithful and pastors, including Monsignor Faraj Rahho, from whom I received Confirmation, and Fr Ragheed Ganni, along with a number of subdeacons. This is our Church.

Our martyrs teach us that all Christians must bear their cross. This is ours.”

Under the banner of dialogue. “It can’t be a sin to be a born Christian or Muslim, or to be born into another religion. We are human beings and we have the right to live. This principle must be the starting point of dialogue. Respecting humanity means respecting the other person’s right to life. If there is no respect for humanity there will be no respect for life.”
It’s time to go back to work, the “Rafidin” garments must be completed, there are many requests, especially from Italy. The dream of a new life also passes through needle and thread. While in Mosul people are fighting and dying.

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