One of the first acts undertaken by Iraqi Christian fighters after their home city of Bartella was liberated from ISIS control last Thursday was to put a cross atop a local church — a powerful symbol aimed at marking their victorious return.
Bartella, located near Mosul, was home to thousands of Assyrian Christians until the rise of ISIS in 2014, with many choosing to flee rather than convert, pay a tax or die at the hands of terrorists, according to France 24.
READ: Window to War: Journos Narrowly Escape Death While Covering Mosul Battle
“This is our land, our soil,” one of the Christian militiamen with the Forces of the Plain of Nineveh — a local group of Christians who are battling against ISIS — said in a video documenting their return.
After the men crafted a large cross out of pieces of wood, one of them boldly proclaimed, “I’m going to put the cross on the church! Watch this Daesch. I’m going to put it on the church.” He and the group proceeded to do just that.
Daesch is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, as France 24 noted.
Watch the militiamen’s emotional return to Bartella — and to the Mar Shmony church — below:
Unfortunately, the men returned to find most of the Christian symbols inside the church had either been removed or destroyed. One of the men was apparently so overtaken with emotion that he kissed one of the church walls — a sign of respect and joy after being separated from the city for more than two years.
At another point in the clip, the men are seen ringing the church bells. And, according to the Los Angeles Times, another fighter placed a nativity scene he made underneath the cross.
“Our aim is to defend our land. We must never re-live what we have just been through with Daesh,” said Hussam Salem, a member of the militia. “Our people are scattered, some of our children are dead, we had to live in tents. Now, I want to send a message to my people: Bartella is liberated.”
As Faithwire previously reported, Iraqi and Peshmerga forces are on a quest to recapture Mosul from ISIS. The fighters can’t bring their families back to Bartella until the conflict ends — and that could take months.
(H/T: France 24)
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