Inside Bartella: The Historic Christian Town Liberated From ISIS
A historic Christian town just nine miles outside Mosul has been liberated from ISIS control, two years after militants overran the city.
The Iraqi army on Thursday reclaimed Bartella as part of an offensive to take back Mosul, Islamic State's last stronghold in Iraq.
Though ISIS has now fled, devastation remains in the jihadis' wake.
The Mart Shmony Syriac Orthodox Church in Bartella has been seriously damaged. Left charred by a fire, inside the church pews were overturned, and hymn books and Bibles torn apart and thrown on the floor.
According to the Telegraph's Josie Ensor, graffiti scrawled on the walls of the church read: "Our God is higher than the cross".
Photographs sent to Christian Today by A Demand For Action (ADFA), an Assyrian Christian group working to support and protect religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, showed church officials beginning the clean up effort.
"The church, a foundation and a community gathering place for years, has been damaged and left in ruins. No doubt the restoration work will commence once its citizens start returning," ADFA said.
"This marks a very important step towards Assyrian Christians returning to their homes and no longer living as IDPS in camps. Bartella is returned to its owners once again."
Ensor posted a video to Twitter of the church bells ringing for the first time in two years.
Went with Iraqi Golden Division today to newly liberated Christian town Bartella. Church bells ring again after two years under ISIS #mosul pic.twitter.com/mWZ8w87veQ— Josie Ensor (@Josiensor) October 22, 2016
One member of the Nineveh Plains Forces, a Christian militia fighting ISIS, was among those who helped raise the cross at the church after liberation.
"We're feeling something you can't describe – that's how happy we are," Hussam Matteh told the Financial Times. "We are now back home in the land of our ancestors, our churches and our heritage."
He added: "I want to tell my people: don't go. Stay. There is no reason to flee Iraq and go abroad. This our land, we have it – and from now on, we will be the ones who defend it."