Sister Aman Miriam places her hands in the hands of her Prioress, Sister Maria Hanna (right), as she makes Perpetual Profession of Vows, in this undated photo from the website of the Adrian Dominican Sisters (www.adriandominicans.org)
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):
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.
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. ...
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.
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:
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.
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. ...
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
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.
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:
eleven days, it feels like we are on the same day we left. Some people
are still in the streets, others are still in the parks, and some take
refuge in schools. People are desperate to find a place to stay; even
construction sites, unfinished buildings, private event halls, and
basements are inhabited. A lot of people are living in unfurnished
apartments, and homes, with sinfully high prices. People in the houses
are sleeping on the floor, because they cannot afford to buy furniture.
Some were fortunate to find a place to stay with relatives, in houses
overloaded with people. On top of everything, refugees are running out
of money, as they cannot pull money from banks, neither can they find
jobs to work.
disaster is overwhelming, and we are unable to comprehend it all. Our
church leaders assured us that the Kurdish army would protect us. But
they pulled out suddenly, from several towns in the plain of Nineveh and
we had to make a quick decision to leave. In no time, most people
directed themselves to Erbil, the closest city in Kurdistan. The city is
packed with people, more than 75,000 people fled to it. That is apart
from people who went to other cities like Kirkuk, Zakho, Sulaimania and
is enormous lack of supplements, food, water, clothes, medication,
housing, and money. And Erbil cannot accommodate all these people.
she continued, "lost confidence in everything, in government, in
Kurdish protection, in church, even in the international military
forces. Therefore, 90% of people want to leave." Meanwhile, she had
learned that ISIS had taken over several of the Dominican convents and
for us, as a community, we left nineteen places of ours, which include
convents, schools and orphanages. Moreover, we have learned that our
convent and the orphanage we own in Bartila have been taken by the ISIS.
Also, our convents in Mosul and in Tal Kaif were taken (including
school an kindergarten).
are scattered everywhere and we need to gather, at least in two
communities in Duhok and Ankawa. In Ankawa, we have a piece of land, and
we are thinking of buying caravans. Things might improve, and we might
be returning for a while, however, we do not think it will be safe in
the future. That is why we would appreciate any kind of help you might
be able to offer.
In her most recent report, posted this past Sunday, Sister Maria wrote:
continue to share our daily struggle with you, hoping that our cry will
reach the world. We are like the blind man of Jericho (Mark 10: 46-52),
who had nothing to express himself, but his voice, asking Jesus for
mercy. Although some people ignored his voice, others listened, and
helped him. We count on people, who will listen! ...
church leaders are doing their best to solve the issue. They have been
meeting with political leaders, with the President of Iraq and
Kurdistan, but initiatives and actions of these political leaders are
really slow and modest. Actually, all political meetings have led to
nothing. Until now, there has been no decision made about the current
situation of the displaced minorities. For this reason, trust in the
political leaders has diminished, if it exists, at all. People cannot
tolerate it anymore. It is too heavy of a burden. Yesterday, a young man
expressed that he would rather die than live, without dignity. People
feel that their dignity has been stripped from them. We are being
persecuted because of our religion. None of us ever thought we would
live in refugee camps because of that.
is hard to believe that this is happening in the 21st century. We
wonder what is exactly happening. Is it another plan or agreement to
subdivide Iraq? If this is true, by whom and why? Why are the events of
dividing the Middle East, that happened in 1916, being repeated now? At
that time it was a political issue and innocent people paid for it. It
is apparent that there are sinfully, cunning people dividing Iraq, now.
In 1916, we lost seven of our sisters, many Christians died, and more
were scattered. Is it just circumstance we face this division again, or
is it deliberate?
The stories are heart-wrenching:
are some people who went to fetch the elderly and the unable to walk.
One of our sisters went to bring her parents, and told her story.
Another woman, said that she was separated from her husband and
children, and she knows nothing about them; they are probably among the
others who are on the other bank, or they might be among the hostages
taken by the IS. Also, a tree-year old daughter was taken from her
mother’s lap, and she also knows nothing about her. We do not know why
the IS are sending people out of Karakosh, but we have been hearing from
those who just arrived, that IS are bringing barrels into Karakosh and
the contents are unknown.
addition, we know of four Christian families who are stuck in Sinjar
for over three weeks; they are probably running out of food and water.
If they do not get help, they will die there. At the present, there is
no contact with them, and there is no way to negotiate with the IS.
for our community, we know that our convent in Tel Kaif is being used
as an IS headquarter. Also, we know that they had entered our convent in
Karakosh. Those that recently arrived have stated that all the holy
pictures, icons, and statutes are being destroyed. Crosses have been
taken off the top of churches and they have been replaced with the IS
flags. That is not only in Karakosh and Tel Kaif. In Baqofa, one of our
sisters heard the situation was calm, so she went back with few people,
to get her medicine. She found the convent had been searched; everything
was open and strewn across the rooms. The minute they entered the
convent, three bombs hit the town. They left immediately.
from what is happening to the Christians, yesterday, Friday the 22nd, a
Shiite suicide bomber and gunmen attacked Sunni mosque of Abou Mussab
in village under Iraqi government control in Diyala province leaving 68
dead. It is heartbreaking to hear about people get killed while praying.
In terms of Media and news release, this massacre overshadowed what is
happening to the Christians in Nineveh Plain. We are afraid that our
struggle will become only our own affairs, and it will not have impact
on the world anymore.
She concluded: "Please, keep us in your prayers."
It's the very least we can do.