WALTO, Syria — The village of Walto (Tel Nasri) in the Khabur River Valley was home to one of the grandest churches in the region. In 2015, the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization destroyed the Church of the Virgin Mary. Six years later, the church still lies in ruin, its once beautiful edifice a pile of rubble. Its vaulted ceiling, absent walls, does little to protect the church interior from the elements.
Our correspondent interviewed a villager from Walto, working to clear the site of rubble and rebuild the church, about the history of the village and its once proud church.
“After we came in 1933 [from Iraq] to the banks of the Khabur River and settled here, we built modern houses,” said the man. “In 1940, we built a small church.”
“The people of the village agreed in the year 1995 to build a modern and large church to accommodate the growing population of the village,” he added. “Construction of the Church of the Virgin Mary began in 2000 with the personal efforts all villagers and then with the support of Syriacs abroad.” Construction took five years and was completed in 2005. Christian and Islamic clerics from across the region attended the official opening.
In 2015, ISIS swept into the region. Thousands of Syriacs in Khabur were displaced and nearly 250 kidnapped. “We were subjected to a barbaric attack in 2015 by ISIS,” said the man. “The church was blown up on Easter Sunday at 8:15 a.m.”
“We returned to the old church built in 1940, where we currently practice our religious rituals and celebrate events and holidays,” he said.
The villagers and Syriacs (Arameans–Assyrians–Chaldeans) from across North and East Syria hope that the church will be reconstructed and see the village of Walto flourish once again.
Below: short documentary by North Press Agency about ISIS in the Khabur, in which the Syriacs of Syria’s Khabur River area recall brutal massacres and kidnappings by ISIS, and the resistance of Syriac fighters.