The town of Batnaya, Iraq, has been home to Assyrian Christians for several centuries. However, in 2014 ISIS razed the town to the ground in its deranged mission to rid Iraq of Christians. While the town was once home to some 6,000 Chaldean Christians, only several hundred have been able to return at this point. A UK-based charity called Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is hoping to help more people return as they start a project to revive Batnaya.
The rebuilding efforts represent “a new and courageous step forward to secure the future of Batnaya,” ACN Middle East projects director Father Andrzej Halemba said.
ACN’s rebuilding efforts will focus on rebuilding churches so returned residents can have a place to worship. According to a press release on their website, ACN is planning to “restore the parish church of St Kyriakos as well as the nearby Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and rebuild the flattened St Oraha’s Dominican Convent and the kindergarten, which the Sisters will run, catering for 125 children.”
The devastation visited upon Batnaya was mind-numbing. The town was on the front line of fighting between ISIS and coalition forces trying to stop the spread of radical Islam. ISIS fighters demolished houses, churches, and public buildings. They decapitated statues and defaced churches with graffiti. The phrase, “Slaves of the Cross, we will kill you all. This is Islamic territory. You do not belong here,” was scrawled across one church’s walls, ACN reports. ISIS occupied the town for two years, causing the residents to flee to neighboring towns, only to constantly fear being overrun again.
The following video shows the damaged ISIS inflicted on Batnaya.
The town was isolated from the outside world for over four years. In October 2018, the re-opening of the town was celebrated by a peace walk led by church officials.
1/2 Greetings from the homeland where we are witnessing a truly historical day. #Batnaya – a town of 5,000 people prior to the Islamic State, was the last town still cut off from the world. After 4 years and 2 months, the road that leads to Batnaya has finally opened today… pic.twitter.com/vw9d7JuZ3m
— Shlama Foundation (@ShlamaF) October 23, 2018
Part of what makes the rebuilding of the town so tedious is the fact that during the siege and occupation by ISIS, residents burrowed tunnels underneath the buildings to escape violence. Additionally, ACN reports that “widespread booby-trapping has delayed work which could only begin after a huge de-ordnance programme had been completed.”
Hopefully with the rebuilding of houses of worship, more and more residents will return to this town on the Nineveh plain, where Christians have lived for centuries.