One of the privileges of staying overnight in Al Qosh, thanks to the hospitality of the amazing Fr Aram, the parish priest of Batnaya, was seeing how much rebuilding has happened after ISIS. The church is taking the lead in organising the redevelopment not only of the towns of Tesqopa and Batnaya, but also of the communities themselves.
At Tesqopa, after entering down a street pockmarked by bulletholes and shelled houses, we were lucky enough to witness the replacement work restoring the cross of Mar George’s on top of the church. This building had been ravaged by ISIS during their occupation and the transformation of the interior was breathtaking. 50 children were sat inside, preparing for their First Holy Communion. In the building next door, a group of adults with Downs Syndrome and a range of disabilities were enjoying a group class for singing and dancing. The church has always been the centre of the community here and the walls of the offices were adorned with maps charting and planning the restoration of the whole town. It is a monumental task.
A little further down the road, the church of Mar Joseph was in the process of having its walls and dome finished. The bell from the old tower lay on the new roof, waiting to be refitted so that it could be rung out over the Nineveh Plains once again.
Back in Al Qosh, the shrine of the prophet Nahum, who foretold the destruction of the Assyrian Empire millennia ago, had new walls and a new roof, no longer exposed to the elements. In the works yard next door, the new lintels for the entrance lay, waiting to greet visitors for the next millennium.
However, there is a huge amount still needed. Even though many of the houses in the town have been restored, much of the Old Town with their centuries old houses, has been abandoned, ravaged by rapid decay from standing empty. The mud brick of the Nineveh Plains has not responded well to the wettest winter in sixty years. From Tesqopa, we could see the Peshmerga frontline and beyond that, the water tower of Batnaya, the parish of Fr Aram, our host. 80% of the town is completely destroyed. There is only water in a fifth of the town. 650 families’ homes are in ruins. When we asked Fr Aram what he needed, he laughed and replied, “Everything.”
The physical rebuilding is only one part of the process. There is real concern amongst the church about the psychological impact of the ISIS emergency on the communities. The old people are traumatised, the young depressed and frightened. Read our next post to find out what is being done to meet this very challenging need.