Bartella comes back to life as displaced Christians begin to return
“This is our city, our life, our history”, they say excitedly. In the villages of the Nineveh Plain, which were occupied and looted between 2014 and 2016 by Islamic State(IS), the smell of fresh paint finally replaces the stench of burning. In Bartella, the first Iraqi village on the Nineveh Plain freed from the hands of IS, the first six brave Orthodox families have returned to their newly rebuilt homes after a three-year exile in Iraqi Kurdistan. 200 families hope to return soon
Before the occupation by Islamic State, which began on 6 August 2014 and ended with the town’s liberation on 20 October 2016, there were 3,400 families living in Bartella. Three years of destruction by IS have left their mark. 94 houses of Orthodox and Syrian Catholic families have been completely destroyed (bombed or blown up); 364 were burnt and 1,372 were at least slightly damaged.
The Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), coordinated by Father Andrzej Halemba, director of the Near East department of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has already rebuilt 17 houses; another 150 are waiting for funding to be able to start renovation work, after cost estimates were provided, engineers.
“In Bartella, little by little, the water supply is back in operation, and electricity comes back little by little,” says the young engineer Noor Sabah Dana, responsible for the reconstruction of houses by the NRC.
They are small miracles in a town where deep scars caused by the jihadist occupation are still visible everywhere. “Every day at least two hundred families return from Erbil to Bartella to clean their houses and make them habitable again,” Noor Sabah Dana continues. This is the reason why in front of the houses there are so many bags of garbage. “Families come here, throw away the rubbish and clean up their houses.”
“After everything that has happened, we returned to this house and asked for help from the Church in Bartella,” says Mark Matti Ishaq Zora. “A team of experts came here and made an assessment of everything necessary: painting, electrical installation, doors and windows, pipes. This is our town, our life, our history, and in Kurdistan we are living in poor economic conditions. Food and rent are expensive, so I want to tell all Bartella families to come back. There are water and electricity, and the Church helps us. We are grateful to ACN for helping us to repair our house here.”
A few blocks away, another house owner, Nohe Ishaq Sliman, is equally excited and hopeful for the future. “We will all go back to Bartella – it’s our town. I’ve lived here since childhood,” says Sliman while a painter behind him is painting the wall of his house. “I have drunk the water from the Dijla River and worked here as a farmer.I built this house with my own hands, how can I abandon it? I thank ACN for contributing to the repair of my house.”
The challenges faced by Christians in the Nineveh plains are enormous: There are currently 14,000 families registered who have fled Mosul and the Nineveh plains living in Erbil (approximately 90,000 people). About 13,000 houses need to be rebuilt.
Since the crisis began, Aid to the Church in Need has provided continued support to Christian refugees in northern Iraq. To date, a total of 34.5 million euros have been donated for emergency assistance – including food, education and housing – pastoral assistance and reconstruction. All the aid for the reconstruction is being channelled through the “Help them back” campaign, which is enabling the town of Bartella to come back to life again.