With only 8.1 km separating Batnaya and Tel Skuf, they existed as sister cities in an area of Iraq called the Nineveh Plain – a place that Christians and other ethnoreligious minorities have lived for millennia.
When ISIS swept across Iraq in August 2014 on a mission of systematic annihilation against Christians and other religious minorities, chaos ensued. People were forced to flee their homes instantly, knowing full well that ISIS would soon destroy their churches, houses and places of work. Eventually, ISIS took Batnaya with the full intention to advance towards Tel Skuf, desecrating everything in its way.
In the resulting struggle between the Kurdish army, called Peshmerga, and ISIS to take possession of the land, Batnaya became a desolate moonscape and Tel Skuf an uninhabited ghost town, constantly under enemy fire, directly on the war’s front line. By October 2017, the Peshmerga, together with the Coalition Forces, drove out the last of the ISIS from Batnaya and eventually all of Nineveh.
In Tel Skuf, 300 families have started the process of patching their lives back together. In Batnaya, however, only one man has re-established his home and returned with his family. Even with ISIS gone, the current political uncertainty has caused some to hesitate on returning to Nineveh while others have chosen to leave the province altogether, seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, other nearby countries, or in the West. For all the displaced people of Nineveh, these towns mean more than the streets and buildings – Nineveh is the wounded but still beating heart of Iraq’s minority population.
The Nineveh Plains are symbolic, a cultural and religious landmark and to remain with the uncertainties of war still on the horizon is to claim ownership of one’s future there. -Story written by Taylor Nam