In 2016, when Father Ammar Yako, a Syrian Catholic priest from the Assyrian-majority Christian town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, returned to his church, he found that the floor of the church was full of rubble and artworks were looted.
After two years of control by the armed group ISIL, Qaraqosh, including the Great Immaculate Conception Church preached by Yako, suffered looting and urban warfare before being retaken by Iraqi security forces and allied militias.
Five years later, as his church was rebuilt, Yako’s congregation received No one else, but Pope FrancisBut two months after the Pope’s historic visit, Masako foresaw a grim future for his community as it was struggling with a tense security situation and a series of more pressing issues.
“From 2006 to 2014, when IS entered, Qaraqosh experienced an economic and commercial recovery,” Yako said. “The overall economic situation is not good now. Capital in the disaster-affected area-there is no such thing. The city’s economy is static.”
After escaping the ISIL attack, many Christians who returned to the thousand-year-old town in the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq found that they could not make a living in the post-war economic downturn. Like the rest of Iraq, Nineveh’s agricultural sector has been affected in recent years by climate change, lack of reliable water sources, and national corruption and mismanagement.
But for an ethnic minority community struggling to get back on its feet, the decline of agriculture and commerce, which was once a granary in Iraq, has further exacerbated the threat to the continued existence of Christians in the region because of those displaced by the conflict with ISIL. Thousands of people have chosen to move abroad instead of gambling in the unsafe future at home.
“There are many challenges in the climate there-challenges require a real country to understand where [there can] Provide them with serious solutions,” said Paskar Varda, chairman of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization in Baghdad. “Iraq’s agriculture and industry are very rich, but everyone is because [lack of care]. “
Warda herself is an Assyrian Christian, and she regrets the inefficiency, delays in providing seeds to farmers, and the Iraqi government’s general lack of investment in rebuilding communities and supporting farmers in northern Iraq in the post-ISIL years.
According to data from the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, Iraq’s barley, corn and rice production is expected to decline in the 2021-2022 fiscal year due to water shortages, while wheat is expected to rise. But farmers in northern Iraq may not benefit from these partial growth.
Residents and analysts have noticed that due to ISIL’s occupation, post-war financial difficulties, and the recent global economic contraction caused by the pandemic, the Iraqi government cannot pay farmers in full for the crops they buy after each harvest. , Especially the financial situation of wheat farmers.
John Dakali is a resident of Al-Qosh, an agriculturally prosperous Christian village in Nineveh, which successfully repelled an ISIL attack in 2014. Since the war.
Dakari said: “Most of them feel that they will spend a lot of money, and at the end of the season, the government will not be able to pay all of their money.” “They are disappointed. That’s why they are not like before. The reason for being so active.”
According to Zahra Hadi Mahmood, a professor of agricultural engineering economics at Baghdad University, this has led to the exploitation of farmers.
She said: “The state’s efforts are not enough to support farmers, leading to the emergence of a wholesale business circle, which is an administrative corruption circle. They buy wheat crops at low prices and sell them to the country. This has led to the deterioration of the financial situation of the farms.”
Mahmoud added that since ISIL destroyed the sprinklers used by Nineveh farmers to irrigate their crops, agriculture in the area has begun to rely entirely on rainfall. The figures recorded in nearby Mosul as of 2017 indicate that the rainfall in recent years has been fairly healthy. But according to residents and local farmers, drought and irregular rainfall have been plagued northern Iraq since then.
“This year our farm is zero-it has never rained,” said Basim Boka, the agricultural land owner of Al-Qosh. “No irrigation. All our farms depend on rain and God.”
The United Nations Environment Programme said in a 2019 report that Iraq is “the fifth most vulnerable country in the world” in response to several factors related to climate change.
Although the most significant change to date has occurred in the rapidly drying south of the country, according to a special report from Reuters in 2018, intermittent droughts and underdeveloped irrigation infrastructure are slowly turning the Christian heartland of Iraq into a “sandstorm”. “.
Dams on the Tigris and other rivers in the upper reaches of Turkey and Iran also threaten Iraq’s water supply, and a new dam on the upper Tigris of Turkey began operations at the end of last year.
In 2014, Nabil Musa of Waterkeepers Iraq-Kurdistan took a trip along the Tigris River near the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq. There he and his colleagues met farmers along the river. They said they would Can no longer cultivate in the area because of conflict and climate change.
“Especially the landscape around the river has changed due to climate change and human influence,” Moussa said. “I think we will be the first to be hit in terms of climate change and its effects. It is already here, and we are not ready yet.”
Back to Qaraqosh, residents said that the combined effects of the war and the economic downturn were unbearable for some people.
“We have a proverb that says’the head is hit twice,'” said Akad Alkhodedy, a resident of Qaraqosh. “This means that one person can deal with one challenge, but two problems become difficult to solve. Therefore, many Christians from Iraq Immigration, especially in [ISIL] Took over our towns and villages because they became hopeless about recovering from these scenes. “
‘Just words, not practice’
According to data from the Assyrian Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC, the population of Assyrian Christians in Iraq has dropped from 1.5 million in 2003 to less than 200,000 in 2019. The institute reports that as of 2020, only about half of the Christian population in the Nineveh Plain has returned to their homes.
Reine Hanna, executive director of the institute, said that the destruction caused by ISIL prevented many Christians from returning to their land.
“This will immediately threaten their ability to return and also their ability to stay long-term,” Hannah said. “In addition to destruction, in some cases, some farmers may not even be able to enter their farmland just because of the current safe split method.”
All in all, Qaraqosh is one of the luckier towns in the region. 70% of the town’s pre-war residents have returned, and according to Alkhodedy and several analysts, NGOs, and foreign donors, the town’s ability to rebuild infrastructure is better compared to other towns in the region. Nonetheless, they stated that the lack of state-led reconstruction efforts hindered economic recovery.
“[Iraqi Prime Minister] Mustafa al-Kadhimi pledged to help Christians solve this problem and help them expand their regions,” said Karok Ke, director of the U.S.-Kurdish Institute in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. Karokh Khoshnaw said. “But until now, they have only talked, not practiced. [and] They haven’t done anything yet. “
Amid security challenges and economic uncertainty, thousands of people, including members of the Dhakali family, left Iraq for greener pastures. After ISIL invaded, Dakali himself lost his job opportunities. However, despite the series of challenges they faced, he, Alkhodedy, and many others in Nineveh made a conscious decision to stay through.
“This is my hometown. I, my father and ancestors were born and lived here for thousands of years,” Alkhodedy said. “We consider this field and field [to be] Like a mother. No one wants to leave his mother. “