Special report: Iraqi Christians in Amman “Our neighbors became monsters”

25 November 2014 | 15:52

Source: Special report by Nora Schareika in Jordan

  • Source: Special report by Nora Schareika in Jordan
  • Last update: 25 November 2014 | 15:52

The Al-Katib family fled from Karakosh near Mosul when the Islamic State jihadists took over the region and Sunni neighbors overnight became collaborators.

For Iraqi Christians, a true nightmare began last summer. But their most traumatic experience is not only the emergence of the Islamic State. Unlike hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, Iraqi Christians also don't want to go back to their country ever again.


"Thank god, we are alive and our children are safe" says Ammar al-Katib, looking at his baby son who was born as a refugee. "We will never go back to our home", the 35-year-old Iraqi says. Never. For the small family from Karakosh, a small town near Mosul in northern Iraq, there is no doubt about that. Their life and existence in Karakosh are part of an era that is over.

Their future, however, is like a blank sheet of paper. Ammar, his wife Tamara, their 4-year-old daughter Rama and baby Joel sit in the community hall of the Khalda church in Amman. Ten families, altogether 60 persons, have found refuge in the community. "I was happy to give them shelter and host them", says father Abraham, the priest of the church. "And at the same time I am sad because of the circumstances that forced them to come to Jordan."

A helping organization has built separated rooms for each family by constructing thin wooden walls with doors. Now there is at least a little privacy, although every cough and every whimper is being heard by everybody. "The most important thing is that these people can feel like human beings and that they do not feel restricted in their human dignity", says father Abraham.

Around 6000 Iraqi Christians have recently fled to Jordan, after the Islamic State jihadists took over parts of northern Iraq. Many of them now live in churches of all confessions all over Jordan, most of them in Amman. The IS had given all non-Muslims the choice either to become Muslims, pay high taxes or leave forever. Many people, however, were just killed instantly, whether they were Christians or Muslims.

For the Al-Katib family, everything seemed to be better than staying in Karakosh when they decided to leave. When the Islamic State militia took over Mosul in June, it was only a matter of days that the Christians of the region were attacked. Ammar, who used to be a nurse in a Karakosh hospital, shows photos on his smartphone: men, women and children in the emergency room, all of them have gunshot wounds; there is a lot of blood. "These people were living next door.

A woman and two of the children died."
With their neighbors being shot, that was the moment when Ammar and Tamara al-Katib made up their minds to leave Karakosh. "Those who started killing the Christians were not IS people", Ammar highlights. "They were our Muslim neighbors, people from the Sunni tribes of the region. We had coexisted for years with no problems. They became monsters overnight."

For most of the Iraqi Christians who fled to Jordan, their Muslim neighbors becoming IS-monsters is the most traumatic experience. Everybody knows that the jihadists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State Caliphate are religious lunatics and madmen who kill for the sake of killing. The most shocking thing for the Christians was the fact that so many Sunni Muslims from their region became collaborators of the IS. That's why they would never go back – unlike hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, who are waiting for the war in Syria to end and to go home.

When they left Karakosh, 28-year-old Tamara was already advanced in her pregnancy. The couple took a few things and left for Dohuk in the Iraqi Kurdistan region with daughter Rama and Ammar's 20-year-old sister Sara. It was a horrendously arduous journey which they are unable or unwilling to talk about. Weeks later, they were lucky to receive money from relatives who live abroad and bought tickets for a flight to Jordan's capital.

In September, Tamara gave birth to Joel in a hospital in Amman. The little boy is sleeping on his father's lap. The young woman looks thoroughly exhausted, but is proud to tell that Joel drinks a lot, sleeps well and is gathering weight quickly. The most beautiful day for them in a long while was the day when Joel was christened at the Jordan River. The baby was only 15 days old when they all dressed with their best clothes and went to the place where legend says Jesus was baptized.

Like all the other families in the Khalda church, the Al-Katibs only wait for the day when they have their second interview with the United Nations in Jordan. These are scheduled between January and March. Then – so they hope – they will be told in which western country they are allowed to move. "We have relatives in the United Stated, in Australia and Europe. We'd love to emigrate to the U.S. But honestly, we don't care", says Ammar.

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