Star likes to sing to his wife in the morning. It is a ritual for him, just like going to church.
He remembers watching the television as ISIS seized Sinjar, a peaceful enclave of Yezidis, an ethnic minority. Thousands of men were being killed, while women and children were taken as slaves. Three days later, ISIS pushed into the outskirts of the ancient Christian village of Telskuf, where Star was living with his wife and daughter. The insurgents’ message: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die.
“We learned our lessons from Sinjar,” says Star. Nearly the whole town emptied, except for a few residents who were too old to flee. Star grabbed their documents and the family jumped into his uncle’s car. They drove through the Nineveh plains and stopped in Alqosh, a small Christian village on top of a hill.
The ringing of church bells echo down quiet streets that wind around buildings painted with biblical scenes. Star can keep working as a plumber, and his daughter can go to school. But it isn’t home, the place where memories exist. “You can find memories in the house, in the walls, on the streets where we were running as children.”
In November 2016, Peshmerga soldiers took back Teleskuf and Bashiqa, a town an hour away where Star attended church all of his life. More than 2,000 landmines were found nearby, some buried in a grid under a gravel road, requiring deactivation one by one. People’s homes were rigged with explosives. A soldier claimed to find a boobytrap hidden under a mound of children’s clothing.
At Mar Gorgeis, Star’s church, shell casings carpeted the floors and precious items were destroyed. The crystal chandeliers were torn down and shattered. Holy tombs made of marble were smashed. The faces of Jesus and his sheep were gouged out of a gilded painting. The crucifix atop the building was broken.
A new cross was made and hauled onto the roof by locals and soldiers. Still, Star says he won’t go back without international protection.