NPR: Iraqi Christian Village: From Sanctuary to Ghost Town in 2 Months
By Peter Kenyon
The northern Iraqi village of Al-Qosh was humming with activity — and some jitters — when NPR visited back in June. The Assyrian Christian villagers had opened their schools and homes to Iraqis fleeing the takeover of nearby Mosul by Islamist fighters calling themselves the Islamic State.
But these days, most of Al-Qosh is as silent as the 6th-century monastery overlooking the village from a hill. A few Kurdish security men guard the entrance to the village, primarily concerned with keeping potential looters away from the tidy stone and cement homes.
The villagers fled en masse in early August, when Islamist fighters made a move in Al-Qosh’s direction. Now, as Kurdish forces begin to retake territory around Mosul, including the strategic Mosul dam, some families have begun to trickle back to Al-Qosh. Most stay only during daylight hours, however, afraid to stay overnight with Islamic State forces a mere 20 miles away.
Leaving Everything Behind, Yet Again
Raed Salman, 45, is one of the few who’s here full time, at least for now. The truck driver’s recent history is sadly familiar to many Iraqis.
“This is the second time I’m displaced. We’re originally from Baghdad,” he says. “We fled Baghdad; my father and brother were kidnapped. We paid a huge ransom, but they shot and badly wounded my brother. Now we’re displaced for a second time.”
Salman gestures to his large, well-appointed home. He says it took years of high-risk travel on Iraq’s deadly highways to save enough money to finish it. But he’s resigned to leaving it all behind, once again, because his family’s safety comes first.
“Believe me, there is nowhere in Iraq that is safe for us,” he says. “We have Shiite friends in the city of Kut. They say, ‘Come live with us. We’ll keep you safe.’ They’re good friends, but what about the future? They could be the next ones displaced.”
Salman doesn’t know where they’ll go. Their passports are expired, and he doesn’t think there’s much chance of renewing them now.
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