After Fleeing ISIS, 7,000 Iraqi Christians To Celebrate The Hope Of Returning Home
Around 7,000 displaced Iraqi Christians will attend a music and dance festival in Erbil tomorrow, after more than two years of Islamic State committing terrible atrocities across Iraq.
The event is titled 'The Return Festival', and will feature choirs and dances performed by refugees. It has been organised by 100 young people from Erbil's Christian community, 200 displaced people and the owner of a local television company, according to persecution charity Open Doors.
In the last two years ISIS forces have wreaked havoc across the Nineveh Plains, displacing thousands and destroying numerous towns and villages in their path. There were around 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before the invasion of 2003. Now some estimates put the number remaining as low as 200,000.
To much celebration, dozens of those towns taken by ISIS have since been liberated. However, many displaced families have given up hope that they might ever return home. Maha al Kahwaji is a Christian woman, displaced from Karamlesh village in Northern Iraq, who sees little hope of return. She said: "It's not just difficult, with the tunnels, the burning of homes and the destruction. It's impossible."
The festival is aimed particularly at encouraging those who, like Maha, have witnessed the destruction of their homes via photos and videos.
Sana, a young woman from Erbil who gives trauma counselling to displaced people, explained the purpose of the festival.
"With this festival we try to tell our brothers and sisters: we are with you, we support you!" she said. "We want to give them hope on this day, so that they take this hope with them in the coming time."
Her colleague, a young man named Rami, also from Erbil, said: "Their houses are destroyed after the liberation. We want to show organisations, the central government and governments around the world: You have to help them! When they go back they cannot go back to nothing! They need homes to live in and not just land."
Like the displaced Iraqis who are determined to live generously despite their troubles, The Return Festival is an attempt to bring hope to a very dark situation. Iraq is second on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.
"We are trying to raise our voice to the world," Sana said. "Christians here want to stay."