Check points are battle lines. Sounds absurd, I know, and in most cases it would be but not here. Not here in the land of ‘in-between’ as Assyrians of Nineveh put it. Their ancient homeland, till recently occupied by Daesh (Islamic State), is now contested by the Kurds and Arabs, as they position themselves on the ground in the much applauded offensive against Daesh. We’ve been told through the media by various sources that only around 300 hundred islamists remain dedicated to fighting in Mosul. But will their neutralisation bring peace? Or at least security and thus future especially for the minorities of northern Iraq – such as Yazidis and Assyrians? It is becoming increasingly visible that the answer to peace in Iraq is once again, unfortunately, no. Whoever follows the situation on the ground knows tensions are high and growing. Nineveh plain is for the taking and both, Erbil and Baghdad, will want their piece of it. Nobody will ask Assyrians for their opinion, instead the big players will probably let their guns to do all the talking. And here we return to check points.
When you drive from Erbil/Ainkawa to Bakhdida (also known as Qaraqosh), you have to go through seven checkpoints. The distance is some 60 kilometers. First four are manned by peshmerga, Kurdish military force, the last one of which has all the familiar resemblance of a frontline with its bunkers and trenches. Cars, trucks and buses pass almost at ease through it, but it is not difficult to imagine that the next traffic will be tanks. At the next two check points one can see Iraqi flags accompanied with banners of Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), the vast Shia-dominated army of various paramilitary units. And – upon arrival to Bakhdida itself, in the very center, there is a check point of Nineveh Protection Units – a small, poorly armed but dedicated Assyrian force holding its ground. Next to them are stationed Iraqi police, behind them is a base of one of the PMF units and next to that is a temporary ‘court’ where they bring in captured Daesh militants from Mosul. As it happens our house is the next ‘base’. We are all neighbours here. From the garden of our house (the owners shall remain anonymous) we watch every day as Iraqi police bring in Daesh prisoners. The latter disappear into the building of the ‘court’, then reemerge blindofolded and handcuffed walking in a straight line while police officers, some of them suspiciously young, slap and kick them. A jeep or a minibus then drives the cursed Daesh away – to a proper prison or to their graves somewhere in the desert. We don’t know and frankly we don’t care.
I must point out, that we don’t have these photos (yet). We asked politely if we could take them, but were refused by the police. Since we just arrived to Bakhdida we have no intent to immediately start provoking the brute authority that is so intent on slaping and kicking people. We’ll take our time, we’re in no hurry.
So let me instead talk about Bakhdida itself. We (Miha Mohorič and myself) heard in Ainkawa that refugees are suppose to begin returning to their homes already this month. I cannot imagine how this could be possible. Although some people actually did return, huge parts of the town remain uninhabitable. Black sceletons of once proud homes and private businesses defy optimism. A lot of work will have to be put in place before Bakhdida, whose beauty was savagely stripped away three years ago, will welcome life again. Most of the people one meets in the town wear military or police uniforms. And in most streets one sees nobody.
To be continued….
Photos: Miha Mohorič