Iraqi Christians celebrate hopeful Christmas after defeat of ISIS

Across the region, Christmas appeared to come and go without the terrorism of previous years.

By
December 25, 2018 15:35
2 minute read.
Iraqi Christians celebrate hopeful Christmas after defeat of ISIS

Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas Eve at the Grand Immaculate Church in Qaraqosh (al-Hamdaniya), near Mosul. (photo credit: THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analysis from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later

Christians filled churches in the city of Qaraqosh, southeast of Mosul, on Christmas eve to celebrate the holiday for the second year after their community was liberated from ISIS. At the Grand Immaculate Church, the hall was packed with worshipers and priests conducted prayers. It was one of many Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East celebrating the holiday with hope that the wave of extremist anti-Christian violence had subsided.

Iraq’s Christian community has faced difficulties in recent years, with waves of Islamist extremist terror and kidnappings, especially after 2003. Many emigrated. When ISIS attacked in 2014, the Christian towns of Nineveh were destroyed and their residents forced to flee to the Kurdish autonomous region, where many then decided to search for a life elsewhere. However, a glimmer of hope appeared in October 2016 when ISIS was driven out of Nineveh plains and Christian cities like Qaraqosh, once home to some 50,000 people, and smaller towns nearby, were retaken. Last year, some Christians returned to Qaraqosh to conduct holiday services. Qaraqosh is an important symbol because it was the largest Christian majority urban area in Iraq. In other cities, such as Baghdad, Christians are a small minority, but Qaraqosh is a bellwether for the possibility that Christian communities in Iraq can rebuild and thrive.

This year, the Fraternite en Irak, an association that helps religious minorities who suffered violence in Iraq, and which has helped rebuild Christian sites, celebrated in Qaraqosh. Santa Claus drove down the streets at night. “Thanks to your donations, we have been able to restore 300 apartments, hundreds of people have returned,” the organization said.

At Mar Yohanna Church, the bells rang out for the holiday. Qaraqosh suffered terribly under ISIS control. Homes were looted and burned. ISIS tore down the crosses and steeples of the churches. It sprayed graffiti and even transformed one of the church compounds into a bomb-making factory, evidence of which I saw in March 2017 during a visit. ISIS beheaded images of the Virgin Mary and even beheaded statues of horses commemorating St. George.

In Ainkawa, three mostly Christian suburb of Erbil in the Kurdish region, Syriac Catholics filled a more modern church and sang and celebrated. In Mosul, few Christians have returned after ISIS. One priest said that challenges, such as reconstructing churches, is just one part of the problem. Christians don’t feel secure and are concerned about instability. The blog Mosul Eye, which documented Mosul under ISIS occupation and after liberation, posted hope for peace and freedom on Christians. Ali Y. Al-Baroodi, a local photographer and academic, posted a message of “merry Christmas from Mosul.”


In Baghdad, there is hope that the tragedies of Iraq’s recent past are behind the country.

“In this town life always conquers death,” wrote one woman on Twitter. A giant Christmas tree was erected in Baghdad in an amusement park. Police held a Christmas party. Santa was on display in some stores. In an article on the website Middle East Eye, a nun was quoted saying Christians in Baghdad had not suffered threats recently and the situation was stable a year after the Iraqi government declared ISIS defeated.

Across the region, Christmas appeared to come and go without the terrorism of previous years.

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

Palestinian Christians attend a service on Easter Sunday, April 1, at the Saint Porfirios Church in
May 19, 2019
Christian leaders: Palestinian Authority must investigate church attacks

By KHALED ABU TOAMEH