QARAQOSH, Iraq — Christians are gradually returning to their historic homeland in northern Iraq, after three years of ISIS occupation.
The lucky ones managed to flee before the ISIS onslaught in the pre-dawn hours of August 6, 2014, and returned to find their houses intact. Most, however, are facing tremendous damage to their homes and families from a war that pitted neighbor against neighbor, community against community, tearing apart bonds forged over generations.
Yohanna Younis Towaya, 54, a prominent businessman and farmer, returned to find his home burned and looted. “One wall, next to my father’s house, was completely blown out but we repaired it,” he says. His father’s house, next door, he says, has been flattened by an allied air strike: ISIS fighters turned it into a fighting post.
Towaya says he doubts he will ever rebuild his father’s house, like the 116 such buildings in this once-thriving Christian economic center. “ISIS fighters are buried there beneath the rubble,” he says. “Sometimes, you can smell them.”