LEMONS, GRAPEFRUITS, oranges and figs grow in abundance in the three gardens of Nadia Younis Butti’s house in Mosul, the house her parents built from scratch. She used to enjoy the lush trees and alluring fruits, sitting in her rocking chair near the flourishing, scented bushes. On July 17, 2014, however, Nadia had to leave Mosul, because ISIS had captured Iraq’s second-largest city. “With pain in my heart I left,” she says.
ISIS has been ousted from Mosul and Nadia, who belongs to the Assyrian Church, recently returned to visit the city of her birth. “It is still extremely dangerous in Mosul,” sighs Nadia, adding: “I just spoke to a police officer who lost a colleague this week. He was shot at night. A lot of Mosul’s inhabitants collaborated with ISIS for three years, and some might have relatives or family members who were even part of ISIS. There are a lot of Sunnis who have supported ISIS.
“The city was liberated by the Iraqi army, which is supported by many Iranian Shiites. In Mosul, they are met with a lot of distrust: they aren’t seen as allies. For me, the city has not become safe since its recapture.”
“Islamic State will always remain in Iraq.” Nadia read the message written on the wall of Mosul’s famous monastery of St. George, Mar Gurguis. The former representative of the UN and the World Food Program in Mosul lets the words sink in, as she surveys what remains of the monastery, which has been almost completely destroyed by the extremists.
“Each spring and fall, Christians gathered here with the monks in this monastery for three days,” Nadia says; “there were activities and we could spend the night here. That was a time without worry of great joy.”
Nadia walks through the imposing corridors of the monastery, of which the floors, walls, and arches have been stripped of the beautiful marble that once adorned them. The jihadists did not even respect the altar: it is wrecked. In a niche dating from the 13th and 14th century stands a single statue— beheaded. An arrow on the wall of the monastery points in the direction of Mecca, to guide Islamic prayer.
Nadia recounts she didn’t recognize the family home when she and her mother first saw it after the city’s liberation: “Our home was damaged and dirty: all of our belongings had been thrown around. A beautiful painting of Josef, Maria and Jesus had been broken. I will sell the house as soon as I have the opportunity.”
Nadia also visits the impressive church of the Holy Spirit. Since the liberation of Mosul, the church served as a shelter for four Muslim families who each occupy a room. The church was in the news back in 2010, when the local bishop was abducted and two priests and their guards were murdered. ‘Long lives the caliphate!, proclaims a wall of the church.
“I can’t believe my eyes when I see what ISIS has done to my church,” whispers Nadia, while fighting tears, as she enters the Syrian Orthodox Church of Mor Afraïm. “I remember sitting here, in the midst of my friends when the Mass was served very well. I remember being on the square outside with all the parishioners and using the rooms for meetings: the women in the rooms on the left, the men on the right. Thinking about that time saddens me deeply.”
“The reconstruction of this church will cost a lot of money and energy, and for whom would we be rebuilding it? All the Christians have left Mosul.”
Nadia continues: “After the turn of the century, it was already getting worse for Christians in Mosul. In 2008 and 2009, Christians began to be threatened, abducted and killed for their faith. I received a letter once that said I had to pay, or I would pay with my life. A well-known priest was abducted and slaughtered. His body was found in pieces.”
Then, suddenly, Nadia exclaims: “When I just looked up, I suddenly felt intense happiness. I saw that the blue dome with Jesus’ image had survived the occupation of ISIS reasonably well. Not not much of its beauty has remained, but the image shows how beautiful this church was. The jihadists have only been able to destroy the edges of the picture. Seeing Jesus above me gave me great joy.”
— Jaco Klamer