Aug. 8, 2014
Dear Sisters, Brothers and Friends,
You might be surprised that we are writing this letter so soon since you received the last one. But events are happening so quickly here shocking everybody because of its brutality and cruelty.
On the night of the Feast of Transfiguration shooting started after midnight, and continued until noon of the next day. On the morning of the sixth of June many shells fell on Karakosh. Between 8:30 and 9:00 a shell fell on a house and it killed two boys (9 and 5 years old) who were playing in the garden; and it also killed a 37 year-old woman who was trying to pull water from the pipes. This caused many people to leave the town for their lives. On the afternoon almost all people who remained went out for the funeral of the victims at the church. Although atmosphere of the funeral was sad and calm, it was obvious that people were scared of something would happen.
On the seventh of August we gradually started to understand that the Peshmerga, who were supposed to protect Karakosh, were pulling out, leaving the town unprotected. Everybody was shocked because Kurdish government promised to defend Karakosh, and the other Christian towns. At the same time, ISIS started to get closer to Karakosh and the residents stared to leave the town. As a community, in no time we were to prepare to leave; we took the least with us unaware of what to take and unable to comprehend what was really happening. There were 30 sisters left Karakosh in three cars, and two families accompanied us, as they had no place to go. Three Franciscan sisters came with us, too. When we left the convent, we were surprised to see a big number of people leaving the town on foot. Moreover, it was strange to see only very few guards at the checkpoint when we were leaving the town. We were not alone on this, other towns shared the same horror. Christians from 15 villages among them Karamles, Bartela, Bashiqa, Telkaif, Baqofa, Batnaya, Telusquf were forced to leave their homes because ISIS was advancing. Our sisters also left their convents in these towns. In Telkaif, while a young man (Lugin) with a young priest were trying to help a lady who was not able to leave on her own, he was shot and killed by the ISIS.
Our exodus started at 11:30 p.m., and before that we decided to pray and have the Holy Communion so that if the ISIS entered the house, it will not be defiled. But on the last minute, we decided to leave one piece in the tabernacle praying it will protect the house and the town.
When we arrived to the intersession [sic] of Mosul-Erbil, we were shocked to see a huge mess of cars driving very chaotically to Erbil. The view was beyond describing, as words cannot fully capture it. Men, pregnant women, children, handicaps and elderly were moving toward Erbil. There were Christians, Muslims Shiites, Yezeds and Shabak; some people were on foot, some were riding trunks of pick-up, lorry trunks, and motorcycles.
There are three checkpoints to arrive in Erbil. It took us five hours, from midnight to five o’clock, to pass the first one; we reached the second one at seven o’clock and the third one at eight thirty. We arrived the convent at 9:30 exhausted emotionally, physically and mentally. What we saw was unbearable; people were suffering for no reason but because of their sect, religion and trace. We felt like we were in a nightmare wishing that someone would waken us up or that when the sun comes out it will be all over. But it was not the case, we were actually living a hard reality. It usually takes an hour and 15 minutes to drive from Karakosh to Erbil, but the day before yesterday, it took us 10 hours. It was very hot that night, and because it was very crowed many cars were taking side routes.
Upon arriving in Erbil, we saw a big number of people from doomed towns that we mentioned above; there were a lot of people in the streets in the heat of summer sun, with temperature rising over 45 degrees [Celsius] waiting to find a place to stay. Many family welcomed people in their homes and churches but still so many people are staying in parks even in streets and under every tree for shading. These people are way more than Erbil can house, neither can the church meet their needs. We also learned that there were about a hundred people left in Karakosh who decided not to leave and we learned from them that the ISIS entered and took some houses as a center for them. They also walked in the street saying Muslim prayer “Allahu Akbar.”
Since there was no room for all sisters who came from Karakosh and Bartela to stay in the convent, about half of us are staying in the Chaldean Seminary for which we are really grateful. At the same time, many families preferred to stay in the garden of the convent rather then staying in the street so we provided tents for them. Our sisters from other doomed towns also left their convents and headed to other Kurdish towns.
We cannot what will happen or until when people will stay like this nor what the ISIS will do to our towns, nor if we will ever be able to get back home. Everything is so unclear. The situation is extremely difficult. For the time being people have some money to support themselves, but no one knows how long they will endure with the little they have.
As for the safety, Erbil is a Kurdish city and most refugees are staying in Ankawa that is a Christian suburb and protected by Peshmerga. It is hard for people to believe that even this city is safe that’s why they are thinking more and more to leave the whole country.
You may ask what the world can do for us. We would say, stop the blood, stop the oppression, and stop violence. We are human beings here; stop making us target for your weapon. The world needs to stand as one to protect minority against the evil and injustice. People want to live normal life in peace and dignity.
Please help us out to stop the evil.
Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena, Iraq