AMMAN: Saad Polus Qiryaqoz bitterly remembers the festive Christmas season in his Iraqi hometown of Bartella before he was forced to flee to neighbouring Jordan when militant took it over.
Up until 2014, when the IS group swept the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, Christians like Qiryaqoz had pulled out the stops over Christmas with celebrations lasting a whole month, he said.
“Our life was beautiful and we were happy before the IS seized our town and destroyed everything,” said the engineer and father of three in his modest apartment in the eastern Amman suburb of Marka. “Our life has now changed forever,” he added, surrounded by his wife, his son and one of his daughters, a small Christmas tree standing in a corner of the living room.
“Back home, Christmas lasted a whole month and there would be a 15-metre high Christmas tree in the square near the church. We would gather there with family and friends to pray and sing hymns… Now all that is over.”
More than 66,000 Iraqis live in Jordan, the United Nations says.
They were forced out in waves by conflict, starting with the 1990 first Gulf War, the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the 2014 emergence of IS. Of those, between 12,000 and 18,000 are Christians, according to Wael Suleiman, who heads the Catholic charity Caritas in Jordan.
Most of the refugees in Jordan are there awaiting clearance to emigrate to a third country and build a new life, mostly because Jordanian law forbids them from holding jobs.
In 2016, two years after IS was driven out of Bartella and most of the Christian heartland in northern Iraq by Iraqi forces, Qiryaqoz, who had sought refuge in nearby Arbil, returned for a visit.
It was a shock, said the 56-year-old, “and there was no other option but to flee and find a safe haven for my family”, so in the spring of 2017, they moved to Jordan. — AFP