A Christian refugee family enjoys a modest Easter meal at the Dawdia camp
DAWDIA REFUGEE CAMP, Kurdistan Region - As ancient Christian communities in northern Iraq celebrated Easter, Christian refugees marked the festivities in camps across the Kurdistan Region.
At the Dawdia camp in Kurdistan’s Duhok province, Christian refugees celebrated the holy day in hopes of enjoying the festivities next year in their homes, which they were forced to abandon because of attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) group.
“Next Easter, we hope to return to our homes and want our city to be liberated,” said Farah Waad, a refugee kid at the Dawdia camp.
Most refugees at the camp are from the Nineveh province, where ISIS has committed some of its worst atrocities against Christians and other minorities.
While happy they could celebrate Easter together, Christians at the Dawdia camp are hoping they can soon enjoy the holiday as before.
“We have prepared some simple things on this occasion. Before, in our homes, we would prepare more elaborately,” said Etimad Nafie. “We hope for peace and security so we can return to our homes,” she said.
Nearly 100,000 Christians are among the refugees at camps in Duhok. All of them live in hopes of a happier future, without the ISIS sword hanging over their heads.
At the camp, Samir Pols said he misses celebrating Easter like he used to.
“We would celebrate by visiting friends and relatives in their homes. We had our own ceremonies and ways of celebrating,” he said.
In the camps in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region, which remains an enclave of tolerance in a country torn by the war with ISIS and ethnic and religious schisms, refugees from different ethnic and religious groups are free to celebrate their own holidays.
Most of those who fled after the ISIS attack on Mosul – home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities – now live as refugees in Kurdistan.
Mosul is the capital of Nineveh province, which was once home to around 60,000 Assyrians, Chaldeans and other Christians.
On Saturday, in the ancient town city of Alqosh, some 600 Christians marked the resurrection of Jesus in the shadow of ISIS: the frontline of the war with the militants is only 15 kilometers away.
Many Christians who had fled Alqosh – after ISIS reached only about three kilometers from their district -- have returned to their homes since Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces pushed back the militants to the current frontline.
The refugees at the Dawdia camp are victims of ISIS and other extremist religious groups that flourish in Iraq. ISIS has carried out some of its worst atrocities against minorities in northern Iraq, including Christians and Yezidi Kurds.
“More than 125,000 Christians had to move to the Kurdistan Region for sanctuary,” said Stivan Shany, a journalist and member of the Chaldean Diocese of Erbil.
“Baghdad militias terrorize them and intimidate them into leaving, which they have done in droves. If these current trends continue we will have no Christians in Iraq in just a short few years,” Shany warned.
The Christians of Nineveh in northwestern Iraq were among the first victims of ISIS when it blitzed across the province in June 2014 and imposed its Draconian rules on inhabitants. Minorities were ordered either to pay a special tax, called Jizya, or face death. Their places of worship were either desecrated or demolished.
Unlike other parts of Iraq, which Christians have deserted in large numbers, Kurdistan remains home to a thriving Christian community.
In Alqosh, five Christian places of worship remain, one of them 1,500 years old.
There are still 100 families that have not returned to Alqosh, because they went abroad after the ISIS advances. But residents believe that those families also will eventually return.