Nineveh Plain: Syriacs celebrating end of church reconstructions

The Syriacs of the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq today celebrated the reconstruction and reopening of the three biggest churches in the Nineveh Plain. The festive celebration was only possible, and means a big breakthrough, after several hundreds of displaced Syriac families returned to their cities and villages in the Nineveh Plain.

Early Friday morning the church bells of all three churches rang simultaneously in the majority-Syriac cities of Baghdede, Baritle and Alqosh as a sign of the finished reconstruction and renewal of the churches.

The Syriac-Catholic priest father Cimad Hanna of the Al-Tahira church in Baghdede said in an interview with Deutsch Welle that the three churches that rang their church bells were the Al-Tahira church – concern the biggest church in the Nineveh Plain – St. Mor Simeon and St. Virgin Mary. Reconstruction aid for all three churches came from Western Christian organizations, the Iraqi state which allocated funds from the national budget for the reconstruction of regions.

Syriac-Orthodox priest father Cuda İşo of the St. Virgin Mary church in Baritle told Deutsch Welle, “the reconstruction of the three churches has brought back life and joy for our people in the Nineveh Plain. Our people pray for love and hope in our country Iraq and a Nineveh Plain without war and terrorism.”

Before the Nineveh Plain was attacked and occupied by ISIS in 2014 the cities and villages of the Nineveh Plain were majority Syriac with around 150.000 Syriacs. The onslaught of ISIS led to an instant mass exodus to the Kurdish Region in Iraq, other parts of northern Iraq and Bagdad. Of the 150.000 Syriacs approximately 65.000 have returned to their cities and villages in the Nineveh Plain after the defeat of the ISIS caliphate in Iraq in 2017. The other tens of thousands mostly remain in Ankawa, the Syriac suburb of Erbil, or have fled further to the West.

The Nineveh plain is considered by Iraqi Syriacs (Chaldeans-Assyrians-Arameans) as their homeland in Iraq – by a decision in principle by the Iraqi government in January 2014 the Nineveh Plain could become a Region of Iraq in line with the Federal constitution of Iraq. Before the US-led coalition toppled the Saddam regime in 2003 there were 1.5 mln. Syriacs living in Iraq. Because of the instability, corruption, economic mismanagement and foreign influences in Iraq after 2003 the numbers of Syriacs has dwindled to 250-300.000. Emigration remains a big threat to Christian presence in Iraq and especially in the Nineveh Plain. If the current high level of insecurity, unemployment, foreign influence through proxies and corruption remains in Iraq, the future for Syriacs and Christianity in Iraq is grim.