A glimpse of a 'disappearing' people
Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government, in northern Iraq, is home to tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians who have fled the threat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants who have launched an offensive throughout much of Iraq and Syria in recent months. It was the protection of Erbil that President Obama stated as one of the main reasons for launching air strikes in the area last summer, as the U.S. was drawn into its first significant combat operations in the region since 2003 to protect the oil-rich region from ISIS.
Erbil has also become home to tens of thousands of refugees from the Nineveh Valley, forced to flee their homes by the same forces that prompted U.S. air strikes in August. Iraq’s Christians have faced increased persecution, fleeing for the west. Many have ended up in the largely Christian community of Ankawa, on the outskirts of Erbil, on their way out of the country, a place that photographer Guillermo Cervera traveled to in December. A mere 50 miles or so from Mosul, the largest city in Iraq currently controlled by ISIS militants, the Iraqi Christians who make the up the majority of Ankawa’s population celebrated Christmas in partially constructed commercial centers and in tents in the gardens of some churches. “With the refugees not only end two thousand years of Christianity in the valley of Nineveh but also five thousand years of Assyrian culture,” Cervera told msnbc. “They are the heirs of Mesopotamia, and they are disappearing.”