The evil of attempting to annihilate an entire people group because of who they are generates long-lasting consequences. For Iraq's Christians, the horrific pain of genocide has repeated time and time again. Over 80 years ago, the term "genocide" was coined because of the mass slaughter of Iraq's Christians. But it took ISIS militants sweeping across the Nineveh Plains in 2014 for the depth of Christian persecution in Iraq to gain recognition on the world stage.
Sadly, today (August 7) marks the anniversary of both genocides.
Dr. Raphael Lemkin would not coin the word "genocide" until almost a decade later, but it was the 1933 Simmele (ܣܡܠܐ) Massacre which disturbed him so much that he would make raising awareness about genocide his life's work. The massacre occurred near Dohuk, in northern Iraq, and left more than 3,000 Christians of all ages killed in the most horrific manner. It was reported that some of the bodies were burned on the pages of Bibles.
It is because of this genocide that many Iraqi Christians commemorate August 7 as a day of mourning. They never expected that on the same day in 2014, they would become the victims of yet another genocide.
"We did never expect displacement," said Yusuf. Originally from Qaraqosh, Yusuf now lives 70 kilometers away, in a building never intended to be a place of residence. He lives with his wife, whose name translates to hope, and his two disabled adult daughters. Although Qaraqosh was liberated nearly two years ago, Yusuf and his family will never return home. The grief they bear as victims of genocide is too much.
"Whenever I am there, even if the house is clean, psychologically I feel uncomfortable. Life is like it had turned into something bad... I am having psychological problems whenever I remember those incidents. We are alive, but we cannot enjoy life again," Yusuf told ICC.
As he reflects back on the day of his displacement, the emotions are mixed with despair and frustration. "We were sure that we would come back very soon, we were not expecting that to happen... We didn't take anything with us, just our clothes. The daughters needed diapers, so we took a few diapers for them, and that was all... we could not live well (because of the special needs)."
Like many displaced families, they were constantly searching for housing, a situation made more complex because of their daughters' disabilities. One would eventually fall from a height of five meters, causing her to lose her eye. "I feel like I am in a nightmare. It is a disaster as bad things are happening to us all the time," said Yusuf.
Yusuf's experience speaks to the challenges that many of Iraq's Christians currently face. On-the-ground sources estimate that up to half of the Christians who fled ISIS's genocide have not returned home. The psychological and financial strain is a significant barrier, as well as the unstable security situation in the Nineveh Plains.
Sadly, because this isn't the first wave of targeted violence that Iraq's Christians have experienced, some have accepted that displacement is a routine part of life. Milad, a farmer from Qaraqosh, explained to ICC, "I took the displacement easy, but my family didn't. Actually, ISIS's attack was the third time I lost my home." With so many displacements under his belt, he has grown accustomed to restarting his life from scratch. He pursues rebuilding his life with a resilient focus that comes from years of experience.
Determination to restore their homeland is also a significant driver for those who have returned home. Weary of being targeted, one believer left Iraq with his family shortly after being displaced from Qaraqosh. He shared, "[But] alienation was too hard for me and my wife from the first day. My wife told me that she would rather have just water and bread in Iraq than immigrating. Also, there was a school allocated for Iraqi students in Jordan where we lived for three months and whenever students sang the Iraqi anthem in that school my wife started crying. So, we went back to Iraq [in] February 2015."
He was determined that he "would be in Qaraqosh again, just if there was water and electricity. We will build the city again." He would become the first business to reopen on Qaraqosh's main street, which gave confidence for many others to return. Today, it is estimated that approximately 30,000 Christians have returned to Qaraqosh even though many basic public services remain nonexistent.
It is no small task to return to a homeland where so many Christians have suffered through decades of targeted violence because of their faith. As these three stories show, a mixture of pain, resilience, and determination exist among Iraq's Christians.
Sadly, it took a genocide in 2014 for the world to hear the cry of Iraq's Christians, even though they had been crying out for years.
If history has taught us one thing, it's that we shouldn't celebrate the military defeat of ISIS too early. The road to end the cycle of genocide against Christians in Iraq has yet to truly be traveled.