Our first Project

Please read here a short paragraph of the report:

On our way, refugee camps dominated the valley of Nineveh, while other parts of it were still covered with land mines. It is beyond any possible description to see a town of 55,000 utterly burnt and destroyed. The ISIS fighters, together with the families they had brought to settle in the town for two years, upon losing their battle few weeks ago had burnt and exploded anything they could before they left. It was a shredded town, the signs of the devastation, the exploded car bombs, the remnants of the battles and the signs of the presence of ISIS where everywhere. All of the churches in the town, modern or more ancient had also been burned down, but because churches offered a big space, most of them were used as small war factories, to prepare bombs, weapons, rockets, car bombs, in the service of the ISIS war machine.

     
Destroyed churches in Qaraqosh

One of the main destinations was the monastery of Nakortaya, 4th century. This monastery was known to have among other ecclesiastical artifacts, 350 ancient Syriac manuscripts. The monastery was heavily vandalised and the chance of finding manuscripts intact were scarce. Luckily these 350 manuscripts were digitised by F. N. in the past but we did not know if the manuscripts had all been lost, or if someone from the monks before leaving managed to hide them somewhere. It was devastating to see that only few fragments, scattered around the monastery’s courtyard were to be seen, and F. N. quickly identified some of these from very early manuscripts that he had digitized. They were still wet possibly from the rain of previous day, as they were all found out in the open air. We have now taken these precious fragments to the safety of the CNMO, where they must be cleaned, disinfected and repaired as much as possible. This calls for another important task for the CNMO, which is most likely to come across more tasks of salvage of manuscripts from the reoccupied areas as time goes by and it becomes an even greater urgency for the centre to receive the much needed support.

     

     
Collecting the damaged fragments from the Monastery of Nakortaya

Few kilometers outside of Qaraqosh we visited the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of Mar Benham, one of the most important monasteries in the area. The monastery was first built in 325AD and rebuilt or repaired many times since. It was used as the headquarters of the ISIS fighters for two years and was only recaptured few days before this visit. Information has it that it was heavily protected by ISIS, but also used as a slave market. Only few weeks ago we were informed that 40 Christian and other women were brought here and sold. A big battle took place here to recapture the monastery and many soldiers died together with 50 ISIS fighters. We went there in particular for 500 very ancient manuscripts that used to be here, some from the 9th and 10th century and which had not been found yet. We were faced with scenes of destruction again and piles of burnt books. Fortunately these proved to be more modern printed books. As the news unveiled over the following weeks the manuscripts had been hidden in a secret room and a wall was built by one of the monastery’s monks. The manuscripts were eventually safe and were removed from there only very recently. They have now been taken to another place for safety.

     

     
The monastery of Mar Benham