When she had to leave Mosul a few days ago, Maria Yaacoub, a woman in her 40s, only carried some pictures of her younger self with her siblings and parents, and pictures of herself with her husband and children when they were younger. This is all she has left of her life in the city where she was born and raised and where she built her life, like the rest of her family had done for generations.
Leaving Mosul was an unspeakable tragedy for a woman like Maria. She lost her husband in a tragic car accident and had to take care of her three children all by herself. However, the biggest tragedy was when her neighbor, a member of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, took away her property and denied her taking anything with her.
“I never expected that my lifelong neighbors, who for years were only a wall away, would stab me deep in the back like that. I never expected that their son, who had joined IS, would be the one to knock on my door, order me to leave and call me a faithless woman,” Maria said with pain and regret.
The story of her departure started when Maria heard repetitive knocks on her door. She did not let her children answer it; she wanted to open the door herself. She put on a black veil to cover her head, as she was used to doing ever since IS entered Mosul a couple of months ago. She opened the door and found her neighbor’s son, Mohannad, carrying a weapon and dressed in an Afghani outfit, like most IS members. “You are still here, you faithless woman? Did you not hear the IS order of kicking you out? If you do not leave immediately, we will shed your blood and the blood of your children.” When her neighbor said those words, Maria was in complete shock. She hurried back inside without saying a word and tried to gather her clothes, the money she had left and her family’s picture albums.
“Quickly, gather your clothes and belongings. We are leaving to Aunt Lubna's house in Erbil. They will kill us if we stay,” said Maria, before her older son moved the curtains and saw their neighbor standing at their door with his weapon.
She was busy all day with chores and had not heard anything about kicking the Christians out. When she was packing, her phone rang. It was one of her friends in Mosul. “Maria, pack your things and leave immediately. They will kill us if we stay. You can come with us to our village in Dahuk.” “Thank you. I’m going to Erbil,” Maria replied.
Less than 10 minutes later, she was at her own doorstep with her children, carrying their belongings. However, her neighbor, looking cruel and mocking at the same time, ordered her to leave the belongings at the door and take only the clothes they were wearing.
Her begging and crying were to no avail. The armed 20-year-old was determined. She left her things and kept just her purse, which only had some pictures in it after he took her money.
“I will let you take these pictures only so you can go to hell with them,” he said before she left with her three children. She took a last look at her house and saw that her neighbor had marked it with the Arabic letter "N" [of Nasarah, i.e., Christians] and written "Property of the Islamic State."
News was circulating in Mosul, and many were saying that IS members were not allowing anyone to take anything, so she hid the pictures under her clothes. Before the car she had rented could reach the city’s main gate, Maria saw dozens of displaced citizens like herself, leaving their cars and belongings and walking out of the city. They leave behind a great history that goes back hundreds of years.
“They are Christians leaving the city and they have [no belongings] with them,” the driver told two IS members at the gate. However, one of them ordered him to pull aside and let the passengers out.
“Take your children and go, but leave the bag here. You [the driver], go back to where you came from.” The driver did as he was told. Without saying a word, the woman exited the car, just as many others did, and left as a tear of heartbreak fell down her cheek.
Maria said, “When I got to the gate, I realized that my situation was better than others. Many Christians tried to leave in their cars but the gunmen took everything from them. They took their money, gold, clothes and made them leave the city by foot with their children.”
She walked for God knows how long. She had neither a watch nor a phone. All she remembered was the car that drove her toward Erbil and saved her from the burning sun.
“I was looking around me and I saw dozens of people walking in the same direction with their children. Many were carrying their little kids and stopping to rest every once in a while, until Kurdish forces picked them up in their cars. Some civilians also helped us and drove us in their cars after we got close to reaching Erbil.”
Maria reached Erbil and took a taxi to Ankawa. When she got to her sister’s house, she asked her son to go ask his aunt for money to give to the driver. The driver refused and told her that he had helped three Christian families today for free, since none of them had money.
The streets of Ankawa, where Christians live in Erbil, were full of painful stories. The houses were filled with displaced people from Mosul. The house of Maria’s sister also sheltered her brother’s family who had come from the south of Mosul.
On that day, the house of Maria’s sister and the other houses in Ankawa witnessed both tears of joy for safe arrivals and tears of sadness over what had befallen the Christians of Mosul. During the following days, many of the displaced people went begging on the streets, especially the ones who do not have relatives to help them bear the burdens of this life.
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