In Iraq, a Christian dentist returns from exile to serve his people
By Ragheb Elias Karas
Briefing to our Donors
JUST ONE MONTH AGO, Qaraqosh, a Christian town on the Nineveh Plains, the ancient Christian heartland in northern Iraq, welcomed back from exile a returnee of special distinction: Dr. Amir Sakria, a dentist, is the first medical professional to return from Kurdistan, where more than 100,000 Christians have spent more than three years after ISIS took over—and pretty much destroyed—their Nineveh Plains communities.
A graduate of the University of Mosul, the 49-year-old Dr. Sakria already has 25 years of experience as a dentist; joining him in Qaraqosh are his family: his wife Nour Matti Esso (35), this two sons Nawar (11) and Dima (8), his daughter Hazim, who is 6, and his 85-year-old mother Rachel. They were not able to return to their actual former home, which was destroyed. Instead, they moved into a modest, considerably smaller home.
Dr. Sakria, who is Syriac Catholic, told us his story: “I left my city under duress, pushed out by terrorist gangs on the same date as the rest of my brothers and friends in the region, June 8, 2014 [when ISIS first invade the region]. I fled the area with my family, leaving all my money and possessions behind in order to reach a safe place where we could stay until the situation would stabilize. I ended up renting a house in the Kurdish province of Erbil. It was a place where I could preserve my life and that of my children, with a chance of securing a future with dignity for my children.
“Relying on myself and my faith in God, I managed to stay standing up and ended up finding work, which earned me enough money to return to my city and do my work here. During my time in Kurdistan, local laws prevented me from opening my own clinic, but I managed to become a partner of an established clinic. I managed to get on my feet, pay my rent and live in dignity with my family.
“Many reasons prompted me to return to my hometown; I wanted to reestablish myself here and to be of service to local families who have nowhere to turn for their often very serious dental issues. It is not practical, nor affordable, to bring patients from Qaraqosh to Erbil, given the security situation as well. In Qaraqosh I also have the opportunity to work in a local hospital. What’s more, coming home gives my children the opportunity to complete their education in their home region.
“I am very frank and realistic at the same time. I tell you: Qaraqosh, which is the largest Christian city in Iraq, is no longer as it was in the past. It has been truly devastated and has become almost frightening because of all the destruction. Many Christian families from the region have left Iraq by and those that remain are still in Kurdistan, afraid to return because of security issues that threaten their future and that of their children.
“I survey the region and see that it needs reconstruction, as well as great effort in achieving security and stability; there is a precious opportunity to save Christians from further losses and suffering, because basic services are few and I am also afraid of possible security breaches in the future—at present there is no unified security and military force,
“You may read my story and my words, and say, ‘what a pessimistic person.’ ‘Why is he so pessimistic? Answer: I am not pessimistic, but I tell the truth in utter frankness. I have a strong faith that God one day will bring us life again, but what we see here is contrary to what outsiders might think about the reality of our situation. We are here as Christians on the Nineveh Plains and in the Middle East. However, we lack unity and fail to live in solidarity with the true teachings of Christ.
“I am a doctor and every day I see different people who come to my clinic. Their opinions vary. Many people want to stay in the area because their roots are here; it’s connected with their heart. Others want to emigrate outside Iraq because they have lost confidence and hope here.
“Again, I have returned to the town for my family and because of my humanitarian duty towards my people. I still treat many patients for free because of their financial situation. I have so far not received any financial assistance from anyone to reopen my clinic and rehabilitate my small house.”
Mrs. Sakria, Nour Amir or Nour Matti Issa, was born in Baghdad. She earned a degree in management and economics, also at the University of Mosul. She says: “I have been taking care of my children and my mother-in-law, who lives with us in the same house. What my husband said about the nature of life in Qaraqosh is true. But I disagree with him on those occasions when he says that he wants to emigrate and seek asylum outside Iraq, because I am holding onto my country; I strongly reject the notion of emigration.
“My country, even with all its disadvantages and difficult conditions, is still a better place to live than anywhere else. Bu here we need to rebuild our churches; my children and I do not want to see our churches in that state of destruction. We have seven churches in the area and so far we have to work very slowly but steadily to repair them. We want people who care about churches to come and take care of them.
“As you know, organizations that support and encourage people to return home do not have the financial means to rebuild the infrastructure. There are so many homes that were burned down and damaged; and we have tasted such bitterness and suffering in Erbil, because of high rents and the high cost of living expense.
“It is not easy to relive some of that torment in our own region, having to cope now with living in this small house with our large family; we have just three rooms and one bathroom. I certainly need to have access to recreational areas, to give my children a chance from time to time to get away from this environment. That would seem to be a legitimate right, and not too much to ask. Beyond that, I ask God to give us stability so that we will not be forced to emigrate.”
Nawar Amir, the oldest child of the family is a bright spirit. He tells a visitor: “How happy I am to see you here! Do you want to know who I am, and listen to me? My name is Nawar and I am 11 years-old. I finished elementary school and now I shall go to middle school. I do not know why my father loves to travel. I want to stay with my brothers, family and friends here. My favorite hobby is social media, playing with mobile devices, and sports, and I am a fan of soccer and swimming.
“I want to graduate from university, become a successful architect and start my career here, serving my town and my country. I am the only one of the whole family who loves to go and pray in church, abiding by all its forms and conditions. My faith in God is strong and I love adventure. I have patience and endurance despite my young age. I hope that my region will return to what it was before!”
Finally, there is Rachel, Dr. Sakria’s mother. She says: “I live with my son and his family in this humble place. In fact, when I first entered my city after a three-year separation, my eyes were so heavy with pain and crying. I have never imagined that this pleasant region would have all this ruin. Since my return so far, I have not gotten out of the house because it’s hard for me to walk, and I am still waiting for the nearby church to complete its restoration and its reconstruction to resume praying there again. Pray and hope with me—that life may return as it was before in this beautiful town.”