Not all former inhabitants of the diverse Iraqi city of Mosul, once considered the heartland of Iraq’s Christian community, will be able to return once it is recaptured from the Islamic State by the U.S.-backed Iraqi military forces and their allies.
Anne Danyale, along with other Christians, were forced to flee their homes in Mosul two years ago when ISIS captured the city and began their genocide campaign, reports CNN. Now, many of those Christians are unable to go back to Mosul.
“As part of the local [Assyrian] Christian population, there were only two choices facing Anne, her husband Sabhan and their two children: run or die,” notes CNN.
“When we left it was all over for us. We lost our homes, our memories… everything,” Danyale told CNN, adding, “We even lost our jobs, which we had worked hard for all our lives… I don’t think we’ll ever go back. It’s too hard.”
“They say ours is a religion of forgiveness, but I will never forgive them,” she also said, referring to ISIS.
“What we witnessed and what we left behind… how they drove us out… I pray that God punishes them for what they did to us,” continued Danyale,
Eight Christian families who are currently residing in St Mary’s Church in the Jordanian capital of Amman also know they cannot return to Iraq, notes CNN. St. Mary is one of several churches in Amman that opened its doors to refugees.
“There is no hope for them in Iraq,” Father Khalil Jaar, who has dedicated the past two years to helping refugees fleeing from Iraq and Syria, told CNN.
“We have a new arrival almost every week. We have families arriving from Mosul, Erbil and Baghdad,” he also said, adding, “Perhaps Christianity will disappear from the Middle East.”
In May, the Telegraph reported that Iraq’s Christian community could disappear within five years in the face of ISIS.
“They are trying to wipe out all our history,” Anne told CNN, trying to hold back tears. “It is why they forced us out. But they don’t know that in our hearts we will remain Iraqis, and our grandchildren will always say they are from Mosul.”
Danyale and her family are currently living in Jordan but were granted asylum in Australia.
“There is constant violence in Iraq. It’s never quiet. We had a much better life before the fall of the [Saddam Hussein] regime,” she declared.
The Hussein regime was removed by an invading U.S.-led coalition in late 2003.
Before the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq was home to an estimated Christian population of more than a million. Christians had already become a target for extremist groups like al Qaeda long before the emergence of ISIS, but Anne’s family remained in Mosul.
Churches were bombed, Christians were kidnapped, killed and many followers living within the city were made homeless.
But it was the arrival of ISIS that persuaded Anne that it was time to leave. After capturing territory in northern Iraq, ISIS drove out the local Christian population and began to eviscerate any remnants of the religion from the area.
While many Christian Assyrians left their homeland in Iraq, some stayed behind and fought the occupying ISIS jihadists.
In fact, some Assyrian Christian militias are participating in the ongoing offensive to liberate Mosul, as part of the the estimated 30,000 Iraqi forces primarily made up of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Sunni tribesmen, Shiite militiamen, many backed by Iran, and Kurdish Peshmerga troops.
Sunni-majority Mosul, ISIS’s last urban stronghold in Iraq and the second-largest city in the country, is located in Nineveh province, once home to the largest concentration of Christians and other ethnoreligious minorities in Iraq.
The Assyria Nineveh Plain region, the historical homeland of the Assyrian Christians, is located in the province.
“As a priest, I am not afraid because for the Christians, the believers, this is a holy land,” Father Jaar told CNN. “We don’t have a temple, our churches have been destroyed, but it doesn’t matter — our heart is the temple of the Lord and so wherever we go, we have to live our faith.”
According to Christian leaders, the ancient Christian population in Iraq dropped from 1.3 million people 20 years ago, to fewer than 400,000, reported the Telegraph.
In the Nineveh region alone, ISIS has displaced more than 200,000 Christians, it added.