08 August 2014

Situation update

The past couple of days of Kurdish retreats and ISIS advances have been surprising and disturbing, but we remain confident of our immediate security in the Erbil area.  (Housekeeping note: Like New York, Erbil is the name of both the city and the province, so some reports may say things like "ISIS is 10 km away from Erbil" meaning the province and not the city.  We are in Ankawa, a small town on the north side of Erbil city.)

The strategic withdrawal of Kurdish forces to naturally defensive areas, the commitment of the US to intervene with air strikes, the international attention, and the increased involvement of the Iraqi air force in the last 24 hours seem to have greatly strengthened the position of the Kurds.  We are far from the front lines. 
Our house in Ankawa.
We are, however, very close to thousands of internally displaced people who have fled to Ankawa, especially from the Christian town of Qara Qosh, which was taken by ISIS yesterday morning.  Here in Ankawa, the ones who don't have family connections or money for hotels are staying in churches, schools, parks, and St. Peter's seminary (where I will be teaching this fall).  There would be room in our house to host people, but on the repeated recommendation of the church leaders, we have not gone out and sought people to stay here.  This feels very difficult, but we will stay in touch with church contacts and friends of Jim and Deb and hopefully be able to pitch in in tangible ways. 

In the meantime, we are more or less going about life as usual.  (To top it all off, yesterday was our anniversary!  We went out to a restaurant and had pizza and ice cream, which felt strange, given the context...)   We are also paying very close attention to the news, keeping in touch with an NGO security meeting group, listening to partners' views on our presence and the situation, and clarifying our evacuation plans should the need arise.

Kaitlin and Jim are submitting a proposal to get an immediate emergency grant from MCC to give to the local Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese for supplies. The church leadership is very organized; yesterday morning when we stopped by Mar Yusef, the largest church in Ankawa, they were already unloading 15 brand new refrigerators (or air conditioners--we couldn't tell) to use for the approximately 2000 people who had already arrived in the church buildings and courtyard.  In the meantime, many of MCC's partners are shifting their development projects that MCC had been supporting to more immediate relief needs.
It feels wrong not to be doing more personally ("I was a stranger and you welcomed me in...") and I hope there are opportunities to do things that directly help those who have lost so much.  There are about four seminary students whose families were displaced and are now in Ankawa, so we may be able to offer them meals and showers periodically, and housing if their current housing deteriorates.
It is difficult to know how to pray, given on the one hand the imperial legacies of conflict in this region and our nation's apparent return to the scene and on the other hand the brutal and cancerous evil that ISIS seems more and more clearly to be.  My heart goes out especially to the Yezidis trapped on Sinjar mountain, to people hiding in ISIS- held towns, and to the young men of Mosul that ISIS has reportedly begun conscripting into service. 

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