For the first time since ISIS drove Christians from Iraq’s Nineveh Plain in 2014, the Christian village of Qaraqosh is celebrating Easter after many of its families returned. Yesterday, our on-the-ground team was there as thousands of Christians filled the streets to wave palm branches and celebrate Palm Sunday. Today, they meet with believers in the town as they prepare to celebrate Easter together back in their homes after three years of displacement.
Anis Behnam is determined to stay in Qaraqosh. Whatever it takes.
The 58-year-old university teacher is a wise man. He has been through a lot, and the fire has purified his character.
Standing in the middle of the rubble of houses that ISIS looted and destroyed during the militants’ three-year occupation of the Nineveh Plain, Anis is crystal clear about his future plans: “Before ISIS, we were here in Qaraqosh with 50,000 Christians. But only 25,000 have returned. However, even if there were only 1,000 Christians left, we would stay here,” he says. “I want to stay here. Forever.”
Watch as Anis guides us through his neighborhood and shares his love for his village of Qaraqosh.
While showing us around his war-torn neighborhood, he explains: “This is the old part of the town. It has been neglected for three years because of ISIS. Most of the houses here came down–burnt or destroyed. Now, people are just trying to rebuild their homes.”
Anis is one of the Christians who returned last year to Qaraqosh.
“This is the place where I spent most my life. I’ve been brought up here, and I love it. That is why I am here again.”
Easter: A Message of New Life
Next Sunday will be the first time since moving back that Anis will again celebrate Easter in his beloved town. “Easter is a message to humanity–a message of new life,” he says. “After torture, after hardships, after tough conditions, there will be life again. This is the main thing that we expect from Easter.”
For Anis, serving his community like Christ served mankind defines his life in Qaraqosh.
“Our Lord has risen. This gives all of us great hope, and we try to be just like Him: living a new life with Jesus Christ,” he says. “I cannot think of myself living elsewhere. I tried to do that, and I failed. So this the only place where I would like to be–just to stay here forever, to be useful in my community.”
‘Please help us stand firm.’
Anis has a clear message for Christians worldwide: “Please, support us spiritually. No more, no less. You now are aware of the fact that there are Christians here who are tormented. But we want to survive. So, please give us [emotional and spiritual] support so that we’re able to stand firm in Iraq.”
Anis specifically requests prayers for the safety of Christians in Qaraqosh. “Just pray for us to be protected,” he says. “To be sound and safe in our country from now on.”