Prioress of Dominican Sisters in Iraq chronicles ISIS takeover, expresses fears and frustrations | Carl E. Olson
| CWR Blog
Sister Maria Hanna: "The disaster is overwhelming, and we are unable to comprehend it all."
Sister Maria Hanna, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq, has been posting about the harrowing situation there over the past several weeks. In an August 5th post, she describes the upheavel and exodus taking place in Mosul and Karakosh (Qaraqosh):
So far, 510 families have been displaced from Mosul. Some were fortunate to leave before the deadline ISIS set as they were able to take their belongings with them. However, 160 families of them left Mosul with only their clothes on; everything they had was taken away from them.
These families are in so much need of help and support. People in Christian towns that received these refugees opened their homes to provide shelters and food for them, as much as they could. People are strongly willing to help, but the fact that they did not have their salaries for two months (June- July) makes it extremely difficult for them to offer more. As the salaries of government employees in areas under ISIS control are being suspended. Additionally, because of the present situation in Mosul and the whole province (of Nineveh) the economy of the state is suffering, which naturally affects everyone. Since the tension started in Mosul, many people lost their jobs as 99% of jobs stopped, which means there is hardly any money to be used let alone loaning to those who are in need. This is not only in the province of Nineveh, but also in Erbil. Moreover, all Christians in the plain of Nineveh have not received their food supplement, which the government used to provide via the smart ration card. This is causing a crisis not only for the refugees, but also for the residents in the area. ...
As you perhaps know, concerning the situation in Mosul, the Islamic State has a policy in governing the city. After displacing the Christians, they started their policy concerning the holy places that angered people. So far, the churches are under their control; crosses have been taken off. But we are not sure about the extent of the damaged done in them. In addition to that, few mosques have been affected, too. The ISIS destroyed two mosques with their shrines last week: the mosque of Prophet Sheeth (Seth) and the mosque of the Prophet Younis, or Jonah, said to be the burial place of Jonah. The militants claim that such mosques have become places for apostasy, not prayer. This was really too painful for all people as Jonah’s shrine was considered as a monument. Also, it was a historical place as it was built on an old church. Destroying such places is a destruction of our heritage and legacy.
She then penned this poignant plea: "We are surprised that some countries of the world are silent about what is happening. We hoped that there would be stronger international approach toward Iraq, and Christians in Iraq in general. As for us as community, our sisters in Batnaya and Telkaif had to leave the town with 99% of people who left because of violence outside the town."
Just three days later, Sister Maria wrote again: "You might be surprised that we are writing this letter so soon since you received the last one. But events are happening so quickly here shocking everybody because of its brutality and cruelty." She described the escalation of violence and attacks, and then wrote that the Sisters would have to leave Karakosh, Iraq's largest Christian city:
On the seventh of August we gradually started to understand that the Peshmerga, who were supposed to protect Karakosh, were pulling out, leaving the town unprotected. Everybody was shocked because Kurdish government promised to defend Karakosh, and the other Christian towns. At the same time, ISIS started to get closer to Karakosh and the residents stared to leave the town. As a community, in no time we were to prepare to leave; we took the least with us unaware of what to take and unable to comprehend what was really happening. There were thirty sisters left Karakosh in three cars, and two families accompanied us, as they had no place to go. Three Franciscan sisters came with us, too. When we left the convent, we were surprised to see a big number of people leaving the town on foot. Moreover, it was strange to see only very few guards at the checkpoint when we were leaving the town. We were not alone on this, other towns shared the same horror. Christians from fifteen villages among them Karamles, Bartela, Bashiqa, Telkaif, Baqofa, Batnaya, Telusquf were forced to leave their homes because ISIS was advancing. Our sisters also left their convents in these towns. In Telkaif, while a young man (Lugin) with a young priest were trying to help a lady who was not able to leave on her own, he was shot and killed by the ISIS.
Our exodus started at 11:30 pm, and before that we decided to pray and have the Holy Communion so that if the ISIS entered the house, it will not be defiled. But on the last minute, we decided to leave one piece in the tabernacle praying it will protect the house and the town. ...
We cannot what will happen or until when people will stay like this nor what the ISIS will do to our towns, nor if we will ever be able to get back home. Everything is so unclear. The situation is extremely difficult. For the time being people have some money to support themselves, but no one knows how long they will endure with the little they have.
As for the safety, Erbil is a Kurdish city and most refugees are staying in Ankawa that is a Christian suburb and protected by Peshmerga. It is hard for people to believe that even this city is safe that’s why they are thinking more and more to leave the whole country.
You may ask what the world can do for us. We would say, stop the blood, stop the oppression, and stop violence. We are human beings here; stop making us target for your weapon. The world needs to stand as one to protect minority against the evil and injustice. People want to live normal life in peace and dignity.
In an August 17th post, Sister Maria detailed the desperate situation faced by refugees: