Revitalizing the Nineveh Plains: Mor Aphrem II opens St Aphrem the Syriac Kindergarten in Bartella. Al-Tahira Secondary School opens in Baghdede

BARTELLA, Nineveh Plains – During his apostolic visit to the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, and the Archdiocese of Mor Matay, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II officially opened Saint Aphrem the Syriac Kindergarten in Bartella this Friday under great interest from the local Syriac people. His Holiness arrived on Thursday in Iraq. In the Nineveh Plains, he will visit Bashiqa on Saturday to officially open renovation and developments projects there, and on Sunday His Holiness will visit Bahzani and Merki.

Also, on May 1, the al-Tahira Secondary School opened its doors in the Syriac town of Baghdede (Qaraqosh), reports Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity for persecuted Christians. The construction of the school cost USD 2.1 million and has capacity for 625 students. Al-Tahira Secondary School comprises state-of-the-art facilities spread over three floors, including three science laboratories, a computer center, a large conference hall, library and chapel.

Map of the Nineveh Plain

The towns of Baghdede and Bartella, have historically been strongholds of Syriac Christianity. The nearby Mor Matay Monastery was founded in 363 AD by the Syriac hermit Mor Matay, who had fled Omid (Diyarbakir) following persecution under the Roman Emperor Julian. The monastery is widely regarded as one of the oldest monasteries in use in the world. Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Beth Aywaz (1980-2014), the predecessor of the current Patriarch, was from Bartella.

However, after being occupied by terrorist organization Islamic State in 2015 and its liberation in 2017, the town of Bartella has undergone a major demographic change. Only a relatively small number of the Syriacs who fled the Islamic State in 2015 have returned to their hometown of Bartella, and only some 60% of the displaced Syriacs have returned to Baghdede. In Bartella, Shia Arab Shabaks have moved into the town’s neighborhoods, tipping the demographic balance in their favor.

After the defeat of Islamic State, Iran-linked Popular Mobilization Units took control of the southern part of the Nineveh Plains. The northern part is under control of the Barzani-family led Kurdistan Region in Iraq.

The Nineveh Plains is regarded by Syriacs (Chaldeans-Assyrians-Arameans) as one of their historical homelands in Mesopotamia. Efforts by Syriac (Aramean–Assyrian–Chaldean) political representatives to establish the Nineveh Plains as a separate province for the Syriac (Aramean–Assyrian–Chaldean) people under the Federal constitution of Iraq have so far been unsuccessful.