IGE President & CEO Gallagher, along with Cradle Fund Administrator Chris Seiple, were beyond humbled to spend time with these Dominican Sisters -- Prioress Maria, Diana and Ban -- a privilege to dine with them at their Erbil convent. They are refugees from the Nineveh Plain, forced from their Qaraqosh Convent on 7 August 2014 (the Day of the Martyrs, 1933, when 5000 Christians were massacred). Prioress Maria grew up in their Qaraqosh Convent mentored by Sister Caroline, who had her belly slashed wide open during the Armenian/Christian genocide in 1915 as she watched five other sisters be murdered. 15 July was the 100th anniversary, but they could not commemorate it because they were too busy serving others. They hope to mark the anniversary next month. "The genocide is happening again." Dr. Chris Seiple, TCF Administrator asked Prioress Maria what gives her hope when she is surrounded by such hopelessness and the total absence of trust. "God will respond to the yearnings of the people to return to Nineveh but the people have to be patient...my comfort is in our community prayer, done four times a day."
IGE President & CEO John Gallagher and TCF Administrator Dr. Chris Seiple spent time with the indispensable Ashur Sargon Eskrya of Assyrian Aid Society
At Khanke—a Yezidi Village 25 miles or so from ISIS—there are 20,000 Yezidis in the camp and another 30,000 in and around the village. There is one medical clinic for the camp, and one for the town. Electricity and water are frequently unavailable.
IGE President & CEO John Gallagher and TCF Administrator Dr. Chris Seiple at Khanke Camp playing with Yezidi children (with permission).
With the Khalaf Haji Avdal family, Yezidis who fled Mt. Sinjar on 3 August 2014. The father fought in the Iraqi Army for ten years; five of them with coalition forces, including at Fallujah. He repeatedly apologized for not having a sheep to slaughter for his guests and his poor hospitality. He is torn: he wants to provide for his family but he cannot leave while Yezidi land is occupied and Yezidi women are kidnapped/raped; and he will not take his family back to Mt. Sinjar unless there is an international protection force (currently a delusion) even as Yezidis who have emigrated to Europe write and text back about how much better they are...although their departure cannot help but deny and destroy Yezidi culture and religion. Meanwhile they have just sold the last of their family jewelry to pay for the health care bills.
With 13 Christian families at the Church of the Martyrs in Semele (where 5000 Assyrian Christians were massacred on 7 August 1933, the same day morning as these families fled ISIS in 2014). They are losing hope and the majority would emigrate if they could. They do not trust the Muslims they know because they took advantage of the ISIS invasion, although they acknowledged that there are good Muslims (and bad Christians). Next to Dr. Seiple in the Church of Martyrs is the brother of Iraq's sole remaining Christian judge. In the background, the place of the actual 1933 massacre.
15 miles from Mosul...and closer yet, ISIS on the other side of this mountain.
What a tremendous blessing for John and Chris to spend time with our sister in humanity, Sarah AK Ahmed. She is a leader. A Muslim woman working with Canon Andrew White to help all those who have suffered at the hands of ISIS (from which she has received death threats). But still she works. She is an absolute inspiration.
"The Lord is near to those who are discouraged; He saves those who have lost all hope." -- Psalm 34:18 We have also been most blessed this trip to observe IGE's Cradle Fund partners begin to address the trauma of this region. There is tremendous pain here, most of it carried silently. And there is obviously a role for the Church—called to embody and imbue reconciliation—which often must heal first before it can serve others.
Chris was able to introduce John to IGE's friends in the Kurdish Regional Government: Taha Barwari, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister; Falah Mustafa Bakir, Foreign Minister; Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, Governor of Erbil Province; and Kamal Muslim, Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs. Our mutually reinforcing conversations of coexistence, stability and reconciliation were as strategic as they were practical. We are grateful for them, and for making themselves available on the eve of a holiday.
Visiting Annunciation School on its first day! What a testimony to the resilience of these kids, their parents and the Dominican Sisters –ALL of whom fled ISIS over a year ago. They missed a year of school but now they are back. You cannot keep them down! Praise God!