Christian clergy celebrating Christmas mass in Bartella for the first time after ISIS. Rudaw video.
BARTELLA, Iraq – Just 24 kilometres from Mosul where Iraqi forces are fighting ISIS, the Christian town of Bartella celebrated Christmas on Saturday for the first time after it was overran by the militants two years ago.
“Today is an historical day for Bartella. A day when Christians can return to their homes and families,” said Nofel Hamadi, Nineveh governor, speaking during celebration of a Christmas mass in the town.
A large number of Christians flocked to Bartella to attend the celebration in the town that fell to ISIS in August 2014.
Bartella was liberated two months ago, on October 20.
“We are happy that we achieved something for this town less than two months after we made it to the town,” said Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi, commander of Iraq's counter-terror forces.
“This town is a part of Iraq and will never be apart from this country,” he added, receiving applause from the people gathered.
Under its rule, ISIS forced Christians to either convert to Islam or pay Jizya, a tax historically charged by Islamic states on non-Muslims.
Hundreds of Christians from Bartella fled to the Kurdistan Region when ISIS overran the town two years ago. Iraqi officials have promised safety and stability to Christians wanting to return to their homes.
"We celebrate Christmas and the liberation of the town by Iraqi special forces at one time,” Hamadi said.
In Ankawa, a largely Christian district in the Kurdistan Region’s capital of Erbil, hundreds of residents celebrated Christmas at local churches.
“First of all, I would like to wish a Merry Christmas to all Christians and people across the world,” said Bashar Matti Warda, archbishop of Erbil, at St. Joseph’s Cathedral where celebrations were underway.
“It’s day of peace, a day of love,” he added.