Wissam Ablahad (26) is a Syriac Orthodox young man who lives with his parents and two siblings in the township of Ba'ashiqah, on the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq. Wissam and his family, like many thousands of Christian families who live on the Nineveh Plains, fled the 2014 ISIS invasion of the region and spent several years living in Erbil, Kurdistan. He spoke with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Everyone here knows that August 6, 2014, was a dark and painful day in Iraqi Christian history: we were subjected to violence, persecution, and forced displacement at the hands of ISIS. Those who could not escape remained in its grip. My family and I were lucky. We fled, leaving our possessions and money behind. We clung to our faith and asked Jesus for help.
Our first stop was a hosting station in Kurdistan. We stayed there until we could find a more suitable place to live; we later moved to Erbil so I could finish my studies. In 2017, I graduated from the University of Mosul--which had a facility in Erbil--with a degree in Business Administration.
Hope still exists for us. Terrorists were expelled from the Nineveh Plains, so we were able to return to our home despite the damage done to it. In any case, we could not have stayed in Kurdistan, where the cost of living is too high and we could not find steady employment there.
Ba'ashiqah is currently stable, and we have the protection of the Iraqi army and the local police force. But we still feel insecure in many ways. There is no justice or equality for Christians here; unemployment rates are high here, too. And the ISIS occupation has left a legacy of distrust between Christians and Muslims in the region.
I would prefer emigrating today. I'm a university graduate but I am making just $200 a month working in a juice shop. My ambition was to get a government position and to have a chance at a stable job.
The future is unknown and that does frighten me. The country is going through endless conflicts; and the power of militia and the influence of Iran rob Iraq of its sovereignty. We have been persecuted for our faith and will likely continue to be. But we remain attached to our faith at all costs and hope that peace will prevail in the end.
I hope that future generations of Christians can fulfill their responsibility to build a stable Iraqi society, one in which Christians can play a significant role.
Meanwhile, I am grateful for the Church and the various youth programs it runs, teaching the faith as well as basic computer skills and English. That is helping keep hope alive for young Iraqi Christians.