For Five Terrifying Days, They Hid From Militants
Kurdish forces found elderly Christians starving in their home
Baqofa village in northern Iraq was once home to around 600 Christians. It lies just two kilometers from Batnaya, which Islamic State militants occupy. The Islamists occupied Baqofa, too—but only briefly. Kurdish Peshmerga troops arrived and found the village all but deserted.
They found an elderly Christian couple. The man and woman had stayed behind in Baqofa during the militants’ occupation, hiding themselves for five days.
Reving Hrori, a high-ranking member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party branch in Duhok, first told War Is Boring story how the Peshmerga found the old couple.
The Kurdish soldiers were searching the village for booby-traps or militants who may have stayed behind for an ambush. They heard sounds from a house. When they entered the house to check on the sounds, they found the terrified elderly couple.
The old couple feared the Kurds were with Islamic State, and were relieved to find out the fighters were Peshmerga.
I wanted to go to Baqofa to interview them, but first I had to get permission from the Asayish and Peshmarga. Eventually Gen. Jalal Ameen, a Peshmarga commander in the area, agreed to take me to the old man’s house. We piled into a Land Cruiser with four other Peshmerga.
When we entered the house, the couple was happy to see the Peshmarga again. The general whispered to me that the man, Stivan Mansur, is blind and paralyzed and that his wife Najiba Gorgis is hard of hearing.
“I’m 84 years old and I have never been so afraid,” Mansur said. “They broke our door. We were hiding ourselves in the back room.”
The couple said they have two sons—a doctor and a lawyer who both lived in Mosul. But after militants ordered them to either convert to Islam or leave the city, they headed for Irbil. The road from Mosul to Baqofa was blocked, so they couldn’t rescue their parents.
Mansur said that their sons were worried about them and called constantly.
Mansur used what few Kurdish words he knew to thank Ameen and the Pesh soldiers for their help. Gorgis said she prays for the Peshmarga’s safety.
She added that if the fighters hadn’t come when they did, she and her husband would be dead. “The last three days of our hiding we were out of food, but the Peshmarga brought food for us,” she said.
She asked Ameen when the sound of shells would stop. The general assured her that she was safe and the fighting was far away. But then Ameen whispered to me that the day before, militants had lobbed more than 200 mortar shells at Peshmerga positions near Baqofa.
Mansur asked the Peshmerga commander when his neighbors would be back. Ameen told him “soon.”
But it was obvious that the general didn’t know. He told me he had no orders to liberate the nearby villages—and if they couldn’t secure the villages, they wouldn’t tell people to go back.
Leaving the house, we saw several dead chickens and turkeys. Because the village was empty for days, no one had fed the animals. A few of the tougher birds survived, and now some conscientious Peshmerga were feeding them.
One Peshmerga said that there was another old man named Nori Zaya who also stayed behind in the village when Islamic State came. But he couldn’t find anywhere to hide, so militants captured and tortured him.
The other Peshmerga cut short our conversation. They said the area was dangerous and recommended that we leave.
I called Hrori. He told me Zaya’s story. The man told the Peshmerga who found him that four militants entered his house. He said he could easily tell from their accents that one of them was from Mosul and another one from Syria.
He said he suspects another may have been Iranian.
He said the militants looted his house and took everything. He said they even took his wedding ring, threatening to cut his finger off if he didn’t hand it over.
After that, they forced him face-down on the ground and beat him. Then they left.
His fate could have been worse. Zaya, Mansur and Gorgis got lucky.