The meaning of Easter in Iraq: new life after torture and pain

For the first time since ISIS drove all the Christians from Iraq’s Nineveh Plain in 2014, the Christian town of Qaraqosh celebrates Easter after many of its families returned. During this week leading to Easter, we visit Qaraqosh to meet with Christians there. Today the second episode: Anis (58) is determined to stay in Qaraqosh. Whatever it takes.

58-year-old university teacher Anis Behnam is a wise man. He has been through a lot; and life has purified his character. He combines a friendly and patient demeanor with quiet determination and strong principles.

Standing amidst the rubble of houses demolished by ISIS in Qaraqosh, he is crystal clear about his future plans: “Before ISIS, we were here in Qaraqosh with 50,000 Christians. But until now, 25,000 have returned. However, even when there would be only 1,000 Christians left, we would stay here”, he says. “I want to stay here. Forever.”

While showing us around his war-torn neighborhood, he explains: “This is the old part of the town. It has been neglected for three years, because of ISIS. Most of the houses here came down; burnt or destroyed by ISIS. Now, people are just trying to rebuild their houses.”

Anis himself was one of the Christians who returned last year to Qaraqosh. “This is the place where I spent most my life. I’ve been brought up here and I love it. That is why I am here again.”

Easter: new life after torture

Next Sunday will be the first time since moving back that Anis will able to celebrate Easter again in his beloved town. “Easter is a message to humanity. A message of new life: After torture, after hardships, after tough conditions, there will be life. This is the main thing that we expect from Easter.”

For Anis, serving his community like Christ served mankind, defines his life in Qaraqosh. “Our Lord is risen. This gives a great hope, and we try to be just like Him: living a new life with Jesus Christ”, he says. “I cannot think of myself living elsewhere. I tried to do that and I failed. So this the only place where I would like to be; just to stay here forever, to be useful in my community.”

‘Please, help us to stand firm’

Anis has a clear message for Christians worldwide: “Please, support us spiritually. No more, no less. You now are aware of the fact that there are Christians here who are tormented. But we want to survive. So, please give us some morale support, so that we are able to stand firm in Iraq.”

Anis specifically requests prayers for the safety of the Christians in Qaraqosh. “Just to pray for us, to be protected”, he asks. “To be sound and safe in our country from now on.”