Revitalizing the Nineveh Plains: more than half of Syriac population has returned to Baghdede

BAGHDEDE / NINEVEH PLAINS, Iraq – In August 2014, the Islamic State (IS) attacked Mosul, Sinjar and the Nineveh Plains. The people of the Nineveh Plains, mostly Syriacs, Arabs and Yazidis, were forced to flee the region the same day as the Iraqi army and the present Kurdish Peshmerga failed them. Hundreds of thousands left their homes to escape the ruthless terrorist organization. Most fled south to Baghdad or north to the Kurdish Autonomous Region in Iraq, which were rescued by US air power from further IS advance.

Displacement camps would be the home of Syriacs (Chaldeans-Arameans-Assyrians) for years to come. Those who saw no hope in a future for Syriacs in Mesopotamia and Iraq, unfortunately, fled further and emigrated to the West to join the ever-growing Syriac diaspora.

From the defeat of the Caliphate and the liberation of the region from Islamic State in 2016, between 50 and 60 percent of displaced Syriacs have returned to Baghdede, district governor and mayor of the Syriac town of Baghdede Cissam Behnam Matti told al-Cahid al-Jadid TV channel, which would bring the current population of Baghdede to some 30,000. The percentage of other displaced people returning to the region has reached a percentage of over 90, he said.

Behnam Matti informed that reconstruction work is still continuing and that some 6 billion Iraqi Dinars were spent so far in reconstruction programs. About 2 billion Iraqi Dinars are budgeted for future reconstruction projects in the Baghdede district.  The reconstruction of the churches and mosques in the Baghdede district has been completed. One of churches is the St. Mary’s Church al-Tahira al-kubra which is one of the biggest churches in the Middle East.

Short history of the Syriac town of Baghdede – ܒܓ݂ܕܝܕܐ 

Baghdede is located in Nineveh Plains less than 32 kilometers east of Mosul and 60 kilometers west of Ankawa and Erbil. It is the municipal center for the al-Hamdaniya district (Nineveh Governate) and includes the Syriac towns of Bartella and Karamlesh. It is connected to Mosul by two main roads, one direct and one that detours through Bartella and Karamlesh, which also connects to Ankawa and Erbil.

The overall majority of its inhabitants are Syriacs of the Syriac Catholic denomination and speak Eastern Syriac. In native and colloquial Syriac, Baghdede Syriacs call themselves Suraye or Suryaye.

The Nineveh Plain Protection Units provide policing services in Baghdede and are responsible for its security.

Important Historical Dates

1261: Baghdede was attacked by Kurdish tribes who occupied the Nunnery and massacred its residents and kidnapped many children and women.

1324: Baghdede was attacked by the Mongols. Four of the town’s churches were burned and many of its inhabitants massacred.

1580: Western Syriacs begin to build relations with Rome through the Monastery of Mar Behnam, but only in the 18th century did they join the Catholic Church and began to be called Syriac Catholics.

1743: Nader Shah’s campaign brings massacre and destruction to Baghdede and other towns and villages in Nineveh Plains.

1828: Great famine causes starvation and death.

1837: Churches, monasteries, and other church properties were divided between the Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox denominations.

Name derivation

The name Baghdede or Bakhdida has two components “Beth” and “Bakhdida.” It is also known as “Qaraqosh”, a name given to the town by the Ottoman-Turks. The name Bakhdida is of (Eastern) Syriac origin.

The following theories for the derivation of the name are known:

  • “Beth Khdidy” meaning “House of Youth”.
  • Some think it might be from Syriac “Beth Deta” or “House of the Kite” which made the Ottomans give it the name Qaraqosh or “The Black Bird” in Turkish.
  • The name Qaraqosh or Karaqosh precedes the Ottomans. In Akkadian cuneiform “Qushu” means bird too (according to Assyrian Dictionary of Chicago, The Oriental Institute). It is then not a mere coincidence that the Ottomans named it that. The Turkish name would then be based on the original Akkadian name.
  • Another explanation for the name is “Kar” which in ancient Assyrian and Akkadian means castle, fortress or citadel. Deriving from this, it is believed that the older and original name of Bakhdida was “Kara Qushu” or “Castle of Birds”.



The Syriacs of Baghdede adopted Christianity early in the religions history and it has remained Christian since. There are eight churches in Baghdede divided between the Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox denominations:

1. Church of the Immaculate (or Church of the Virgin Mary)


2. Church of Mar Zyna

3. Church of Sarkis and Bakos

4. Church of Mart Shmuni


5. Church of John the Baptist

6. Church of Mar Jacob

7. Church of Martyr Mar Gewargis (Syriac Orthodox Church)

8. The New Church of the Immaculate