Lubna Manuel Elias, from Qaraqosh, is currently with her family in Amman, hoping to be resettled in a third country. Here, she recites the Our Father in Syriac. When I asked her what she brought with her from Qaraqosh, she answered: “our language.”
Qaraqosh (Bakhdida) in Iraq was famous as the Christian heartland of Iraq and a center of Syriac Christianity. The nearly 50,000 inhabitants of the city, located about 20 km southeast of Mosul, also spoke Syriac as their daily spoken language— a dialect of neo-Aramaic, the language of Jesus. But in August of 2014, as the Islamic State prepared to invade the city, nearly the entire population of Qaraqosh fled their homes overnight. Today, the inhabitants are refugees—many in Kurdistan and in Amman, Jordan. Some are settling even further afield, in Australia, the United States, Canada, and Europe. As a result, we are witnessing the dismantling of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, and an important part of the larger heritage of the Middle East.
ISIS was defeated in Qaraqosh in late October as part of the larger Battle of Mosul. But the Qaraqosh they left behind after two years of occupation is very different than what it once was. I recently visited Iraqi refugees in Amman, and they showed me photos of what remained of their houses. Buildings are burnt, looted and destroyed. Churches are charred and partially in ruins. Though the city is now free, many of the inhabitants are reluctant to return, fearful that the calm will not last. It remains to see what the future of the city— and its thousands of inhabitants— will be.
At The Mosaic Stories, we hope to tell the stories of refugees from Qaraqosh as they attempt to start over in other countries, and eventually as some of them decide to return home to Qaraqosh. We are also sharing recordings in neo-Aramaic, hoping to protect and share the heritage of this endangered language.