A strip of negatives lying in the rubble of a home
in northern Iraq contains snapshots of life as it was before Islamic
State overran the area two years ago and purged its Christian community.
In some of the
frames, a woman barbecues meat on a skewer surrounded by friends or
family, perhaps celebrating a birthday or engagement. Others show a man
scaling a ladder propped against the wall of a house under construction.
images stand in contrast to the devastation that is now Qaraqosh -
Iraq's biggest Christian settlement before militants took over in 2014
and issued an ultimatum to residents: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or
of its population of 50,000 fled - the latest chapter of a history that
dates back two millennia to the start of Christianity in Iraq and which
has become increasingly beleaguered over the past decade.
forces retook Qaraqosh about a month ago in the early stages of their
campaign to drive Islamic State out of Mosul and terminate the group's
self-styled caliphate, but it may be too late to reverse the decline of
Iraq's Christian minority.
residents venturing back to assess the damage say they will not live in
Qaraqosh again unless they get compensation and guarantees of
protection from the international community.
A few are being brought back in coffins to be buried beneath their home town, spared the sight of destruction.
has been ransacked by the militants, who stole everything of value -
televisions, washing machines, fridges - to distribute to their
followers or sell for profit.
houses have been torched, either to create a smokescreen against
coalition aircraft bombing Islamic State in support of Iraqi forces, or
apparently out of spite.
worse than we expected," said teacher Wisam Rafou Poli, trying to
exorcise the militants who occupied his house by emptying its entire
contents onto the street to be burned.
the debris was a militant's underwear and the lid of a box of
ammunition for 120mm mortars labeled: "The state of the caliphate.
Committee for military development and manufacture; department of
when we entered the house," said his wife Zeena, comforting their young
daughter, who was mourning her favorite doll, found filthy and ripped.
Nearby, Saad Behnam Batous found his home had been turned into a bomb factory.
chemical smell pervades the house and in the living room were
ingredients for making explosive devices: buckets of fertilizer ground
to a fine powder and a saucepan full of door hinges, presumably for use
house, the contents of wardrobes and drawers are dumped on the floor -
evidence of the militants' search for hidden valuables.
did not find the 12 million dinars ($10,000) that Kheder Abada buried
in a pile of earth on the roof of his home before fleeing, but the
elements did, reducing his savings to a worthless pulp.
plasma screen for which Abu Maryam paid $1,600 is gone, but the
militants left his old television behind, sitting on a table exactly
where it was when he abandoned the town that August night in 2014.
how he felt when he saw his house again, words failed him and a lump
rose visibly in throat: "Rage," he managed eventually. One of his sons
made the perilous and illegal journey by boat to Europe this year and is
living in Germany, having lost hope in Iraq.
In the years after Saddam fell,
Christians became a target for insurgents, and many sought refuge in
Qaraqosh including Dhia Roufa, who used to live in Mosul but fled when
militants threatened to kidnap his daughter in 2006.
if it were safe to return to Qaraqosh, Roufa and others said they did
not have the means to rebuild because their livelihoods are destroyed
and their savings spent.
am 64 years old. If I were young I could start again, but at this age
what can I do?" Roufa said. "We (Christians) have no future in Iraq."
Makeshift wooden crosses have been raised above Qaraqosh's churches, replacing those torn down by Islamic State.
one church, a statue of Jesus remains, but has been decapitated. Pages
from bibles in Aramaic - the language spoken by Jesus - litter the
The shutters of
shops on the main street have been daubed with Islamic State slogans and
signed by fighters whose names indicate some came from Dagestan and
Written in red on the wall of a plundered electrical shop are the words: "By God, we will break your cross".
(Editing by Patrick Markey and Giles Elgood)