The controversy that broke out between France and part of the Muslim world has not had any serious local impact. A collaborative esprit de corps prevails in the city, with Muslims trying to get Christians to come back. For Fr Paul, people are helping each through dialogue and exchange. In Karamles, a cultural centre helps “to preserve our identity”.
KARAMELES: Mosul and the Nineveh plain have started a slow path of rebirth after years of sectarian violence and jihadist rule through initiatives that bring together Christians and Muslims, especially young people.
Yesterday’s story about Sawaed al-Museliya volunteers “is one of many”, says Fr Paul Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles. He notes that the former is a sign “of the spirit that prevails in a large part of the population”.
Muslims “are working on clearing, cleaning and restoring churches because they think they will bring Christians back to the region,” he explains. “The groups are small, mostly young people, full of good will, trying to undertake positive initiatives.”
“In a few days, some young Muslims will take part in the restoration of the cathedral of the Chaldeans in Mosul.” Such deeds “are evidence of a change in mindset and help others to join the path of dialogue and exchange.”
As a sign of a renewed climate of trust, the controversy that recently broke out between France and the Islamic world has not had serious repercussions in the city. The row has found some echo on social media, but in practice no one has protested, clashed or taken to the streets, unlike the past.
For years, the Chaldean priest has cared for thousands of families who fled in the summer of 2014 following the rise of the Islamic State group. In his view, this process of reconstruction “starts precisely with young people, who have undertaken an increasing number of projects and initiatives since Mosul’s liberation.”
Perhaps no one is coordinating a better use of resources, but “shared commitment and participation remain even at a time of the novel coronavirus pandemic”, with Christian and Muslim groups “doing their utmost to set up sites for isolation and quarantine, bringing food, medicine, and essential items”.
Some Muslims, in case of need, “also come here to us, in the Nineveh plain, to lend a hand” Fr Paul noted. “Now the priority is for the appropriate authority to remove the mines laid down by Islamic State, some in and around our churches,” he added. Once this is done, “we can start rebuilding, also because the situation today appears calmer”.
One of the initiatives completed recently is the cultural centre in Karamles, but there are “other projects under study, despite the lack of funds, to protect our identity.”
“The cultural centre has a large hall for weddings on the first floor, an auditorium for plays and other community initiatives, a bar,” explained Fr Paul.
“Another part is used as the village museum with amphorae, kitchen tools, and other utensils salvaged from an old place now abandoned. We have an exhibit that ideally traces the history of the area whilst preserving the architecture.”
Fully rebuilding Mosul and the Nineveh Plain is still a long way off, but “several steps have been taken” recently despite some difficulties.
One example is the revival of a historic Mosul neighbourhood, near the Old City, devastated by jihadists, where several traditional restaurants and a large fish market have reopened.
For the Chaldean priest, “The COVID-19 pandemic is one of many challenges. It might have slowed us down a bit, but we certainly cannot stop because of the virus.”