Even as the battles continue in the areas of Iraq occupied and held for years by ISIS/Daesh militia, news outlets are reporting on the sound of hope echoing from the battleground city of Bartella, as church bells rang out after two years of silence.
For the first time in two years, Hussam Matteh prayed in his ancestral Christian homeland after Iraqi security forces recaptured Bartella this week — the first Iraqi Christian town to be wrested from the grip of jihadi militants.
Mr Matteh and a small clutch of fighters from the small Christian militia known as the Nineveh Plains Forces joined Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism forces to raise the cross in the Syriac Orthodox Church of St Matthew after recapturing the town.
They rang the church bells even as gunfire rattled in the distance and a cloud of black smoke from an explosion spiralled on the horizon. The fighters, who have vowed to stay and defend the area now that it is out of Isis hands, prayed hurriedly before leaving behind an altar blackened by an explosion and stepping around dusty pews knocked on their sides. Pages of ancient Syriac script were scattered across the floor.
“We’re feeling something you can’t describe — that’s how happy we are,” said Mr Matteh, his eyes red-rimmed from tears. “We are now back home in the land of our ancestors, our churches and our heritage.”
The Daily Telegraph included video of the Iraqi forces arriving in the church. It reports that an estimated 65,000 of 200,000 displaced Assyrian Christians might eventually want to return to the Nineveh Plains – but that their future remains, at this point, far from certain.
In the meantime, on Saturday, the bells rang at least once more.
Featured image: Nineveh Plain Forces via Twitter