Iraq: Batnaya is back

Catholic charity to help rebuild flattened Christian village

by John Pontifex.

A massive programme has just received the go-ahead to help revive a Christian village in Iraq, which was almost completely razed to the ground after being seized by Daesh (ISIS).

The plan for Batnaya devised by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will involve restoring the Chaldean Catholic village’s parish church of St Kyriakos, repairing the nearby Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, the parish hall, library and parish house (presbytery), as well rebuilding the flattened St Oraha’s Dominican Convent and the kindergarten, which the Sisters will run, caring for 125 children.

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Reconstruction of St Kiryakos Church in Batnaya. Photos showing the destruction and damage of the Church after ISIS attacks and liberation.
Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

The scheme is seen as crucial to the revival of a village, where, after more than two years of Islamist occupation, just one percent of its 997 Christian homes were still standing.

Announcing the scheme for the most devastated of the 13 Daesh-occupied Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plains, ACN Middle East projects director Father Andrzej Halemba described the programme as “a new and courageous step forward to secure the future of Batnaya. Even if the situation is not very clear, we see the importance of a sign of hope. ACN is determined to help the Christians to stay. Our task is to stand by the people who would like to come back.”

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The photo shows the destruction and damage of the St Kiryakos Church in Batnaya after ISIS attacks and liberation.
Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

Rebuilding Batnaya is an immense task as the village was on the frontline of fighting between Daesh and coalition forces. After the Daesh occupation ended in October 2016, the village was abandoned as a ghost town. Batnaya was disputed territory between the federal government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. Widespread booby-trapping has delayed work which could only begin after a huge de-ordnance programme had been completed. Restoration has been further hampered by the extensive tunnels dug under the village by captives of Daesh who went underground to escape bombardment. 

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Reconstruction of totally destroyed convent in Batnaya.
Photographer: Mr John Smith.
Copyright Aid to the Chruch in Need.

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Destroyed houses in Batnaya, view from the roof of the Mar Quryaqus (Qeryaqos) church in Batnaya.
Photographer: Fr Andrzej Halemba PhD.
Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.
 

More recently work got underway to repair houses, electricity, water and schools and last summer families finally started to return. Within eight months, 300 people have come back and church leaders now think hundreds more will return after years of displacement in neighbouring towns and villages.

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Iraq Batnaya January 2020.
Graffiti inside the burned Immaculate Mary Chapel.
Photographer: Mr John Smith
Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

The extremists had smashed altars, decapitated statues and daubed blasphemous anti-Christian messages on the walls. Work on the church and chapel will involve the replacement of windows, doors and roof tiles, redecoration throughout and removal of Daesh graffiti such as “Slaves of the Cross, we will kill you all. This is Islamic territory. You do not belong here.”

For many Christians, returning has meant overcoming memories of Daesh daubing homes with ‘n’ for ‘Nazarene’ (Christian) and demands to pay jizya Islamic tax, convert to Islam or face execution by the sword. Resettlement of Batnaya is key for the recovery of the Christian presence in the Nineveh Plains.

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The decapitated statue of our Lady by ISIS is still in the side chapel of the Mar Quryaqus (Qeryaqos) church in Batnaya.
Photographer: Fr. Andrzej Halemba
Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

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Reconstruction of St Kiryakos Church in Batnaya.
Photos showing the gathering of Batnaya people and families in the Church before ISIS attacks.
Copyright Aid to the Church in Need.

ACN 20200214 97129 Easy ResizeNew hope, the return of Christians families to Batnaya.
Photographer: Fr. Andrzej Halemba.
Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

Donations to support the rebuilding of Churches and Church buildings in Iraq can be made online to Aid to the Church in Need or over the phone call: 1800 101 201

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