Hundreds of displaced Iraqi Christians on Tuesday danced and sang to
celebrate an Iraqi military operation to retake their community’s main
hub of Qaraqosh from jihadists.
Iraqi Christian men, women and children — some of them holding
candles — gathered at Mar Shimon church in the Kurdish capital of Arbil
to pray and celebrate, an AFP correspondent reported.
Iraqi federal forces on Tuesday moved deep into Qaraqosh, a town that
lies around 15 kilometers (10 miles) southeast of Mosul and was seized
by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group in August
“Today is a happy moment. There is no doubt our land will be
liberated and we thank God, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary,” said
Hazem Djedjou Cardomi, a journalist among the crowd.
The evening gathering was organized in spite of what remained a fluid
situation in Qaraqosh, with Iraqi forces taking position in several
neighborhoods but ISIS fighters potentially still holed up in others.
Qaraqosh had a population of around 50,000 people prior to an August
2014 offensive across the Nineveh Plain east of Mosul that forced almost
every resident to flee.
The overwhelming majority of Qaraqosh residents were Christians, making it the largest Christian town in Iraq.
“We have been through a lot of suffering and today we are looking
forward to returning to our region as soon as possible,” Cardomi said.
Also present at the joyous gathering in Arbil, the nearby capital of
the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to which most displaced Christians
fled two years ago, was George Djahola, a Syriac father.
“The people had this idea to celebrate when we heard this morning
about the liberation… or at least the army’s progress and entry into
Qaraqosh, the first Christian town in the Nineveh Plain,” he told AFP.
“Over the past two years, people were alive but their joy was not
complete. They want to return to their homes, their land — even if they
have been destroyed — and live in peace in their town,” he said.
Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi federal forces on Monday launched a major
offensive aimed at retaking Mosul, the second city and last major
remaining ISIS stronghold in the country.
Waves of attacks by extremist insurgents over the years have depleted
one of the oldest Christian communities in the world to a population of
around 300,000, although estimates vary.