Throughout August, tens of thousands of displaced Christians in refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled Iraq are marking the first anniversary of their exile following the fall of the Ninevah Plain and its villages to Islamic State forces .
Mr. Matti, an Iraqi refugee, and his wife pictured in Iraqi Kurdistan. (CNS/Sahar Mansour)
Among them is Abo Remon, a 60-year-old man from Bartellah who is also known to refugees as “Mr. Matti.” Before the invasion, the married father-of- three had a good job in the communications sector. He now lives in the Al-Hikma center in Kaznanan, one of 120,000 people waiting in patience for their eventual liberation.
He has written a poem in remembrance of the tragedy that changed the lives of the Christians of Iraq so dramatically.
His poem laments the exodus of his people from their ancestral homes and it recalls the names of the holy places they left behind. It was written in Arabic but it has been translated into English for Catholic News Service by Sahar Mansour, a refugee from Mosul who now lives in Ankawa, Iraq.
The poem loses something in its translation, but readers can still sense the pain and sense of loss. It refers to four regional monasteries abandoned in the flight from Islamic State: Mar Behnam, Mar Matti, Mar Shmoni and Santa Barbara.
Here, we reproduce it in full.
On this day last year we went out of the Ninevah Plain,
from the monastery of Mar Behnam and I went with my family to Alqosh.
We left everything behind us, we did not think even for a moment that we would leave without return,
we would think of (it) as a crisis a few days and (we) will return,
and no matter how long-term will not be delayed more than a week, or a month ….
We did not think about days of no return trip,
we did not leave our homes and our property,
but we left all our memories there,
we left our churches to storks nesting on the domes and above the silent bells,
Be reassured stork, and no one will bother you when building your nest,
even bells are silent and no one rings them.
We are reassuring stork because the owners left the house
Maybe one day return or may not come back forever …
We left our ancestors alone under the ground with the unit,
We left our souls there, and live today without souls here …
In exile … Yes, it’s exile,