Church bells usher in Tel Eskof reconstruction
By Khalid al-Taie
When it swept through northern Iraq in August 2014, the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) overran the Ninawa province town of Tel Eskof, desecrating its churches and forcing its mainly Christian residents to flee.
Since May 3rd, 2016, when Peshmerga forces ousted ISIS from the town north of Mosul, residents have been returning, taking part in efforts to rebuild and restore their places of worship, with help from their neighbours of other faiths.
Mar Korkis Church, the largest in the town, reopened in December after six months of renovation work, in time for the Christian celebration of Christmas.
"This is the first church to be rehabilitated in our town," the Rev. Salar Suleiman Boudagh told Diyaruna. "This is a harbinger of hope for the entire local population, regardless of their [religious] background."
It shows that "peace is now possible", he said. "We can look forward to a new life where terrorism and violence have no place."
The church, which had suffered heavy damage at the hands of ISIS, was rebuilt with the support of volunteers and international donors.
"We renovated everything, including the ceiling, marble, the doors and decorative walls," Boudagh said, adding that new altars and lecterns have been installed, and electrical and water system repairs have been completed.
"Worshippers now safely attend church and perform rituals with evident joy," he said, noting that officials are seeking to rehabilitate the town's other church, Mar Jacob.
'A wonderful example'
Public services are up and running in Tel Eskof, with the restoration of energy and municipal services and the rehabilitation of health and education buildings.
The restoration of services, along with the much-improved security situation, has encouraged displaced residents to return to their homes, said Duraid Hikmat Tobia, adviser to the Ninawa governor.
"Tel Eskof displaced residents, who were estimated to number 900 families, have all returned to their homes," he told Diyaruna.
The town is now "a wonderful example" of how cities that have suffered from ISIS's brutality can resume life as normal, he said, expressing his hope that "other cities follow a similar trajectory to counter forced displacement".
"The return of locals to their homes, and their ability to carry on with their lives and daily rituals, marks the beginning of the end of a dark period," he added.
The bells ringing again at Mar Korkis Church after more than three years of silence ushers in an era of work and reconstruction, he said.
Restoring Ninawa's cities
The Ninawa provincial council has put together a work programme for the restoration of other cities in the province, council security committee member Binyan al-Jarba told Diyaruna.
The aim is to mobilise resources in order to improve conditions in towns and areas with diverse populations, return displaced residents to their hometowns, and guarantee stability, he said.
The new programme represents "a comprehensive reform and development strategy at all levels", he added.
Ninawa is "unique in its ethnic makeup", al-Jarba said, noting that it is important for the province to preserve it and reinforce the social fabric, which ISIS sought to tear apart.
Since its liberation, he said, Tel Eskof has come a long way towards stability.
"The return of the local population and holiday festivities attended by Christians and Muslims, as well as those of other faiths, gives a positive impression," he said.
"We are hopeful our cities will return to their former glory," he said. "We can see on-the-ground improvement happening every day, and this is what we want."