My dad, bottom center, holding the soccer ball, in Tel-Keppe
I didn’t know if calling him was the best idea. He and Mom were on vacation, visiting my grandmother in San Diego. I was sitting at my desk at work, glancing at pictures, tweets, and streaming news. One look at my computer screen, then one at the clock. Over and over. “It was still too early to call,” I thought. But he knew. I knew he knew.
It had been nearly two months since the fall of Mosul, one week since my visit to the White House with Steve from A Demand For Action and other activitists. I thought we were making progress. I thought a shot at success was within reach. Meetings, interviews, letters, phone calls: advocacy and awareness that increased daily. How silly of me. It was just the beginning, and Aug 7, 2014 turned out to be a nightmare all of its own. A day typically reserved to commemorate a past genocide, was now going to bring us to our knees yet again.
ISIS takes over village of TelKaif
I knew it was a possibility, but I refused to dwell on it. “Maybe,” I thought, “maybe, they will avoid the small villages.” At the time, many of us were still trying to figure out ISIS’s game-plan. Land from Raqqa to Mosul and areas in between, coupled with the evil ideologies and attempts at genocide-was this a religious war? It was easy to believe so. Christians labeled in a manner similar to Nazi Germany’s humiliating branding of Jews. A jizya extortion, forced conversion or death…these led us to believe we were now starting a new series of crusades. But that wasn’t all ISIS was after. I began to realize that the religious battle was just a convenient and well-thought maneuver. ISIS knew the lands they aspired to have were occupied by some of the world’s most peaceful people: Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians. They kept their followers motivated through their genocidal methods, whilst serving their long-term goals of geo-political governance.
Nineveh Plains falls to ISIS
I cringed. I hoped I would awake from a terrible dream. I was wrong. I looked up at the clock again. “He’s awake now.” I intended on picking up my cell phone, but I found myself just wavering my hand over it, and instead grabbed my desk, and rolled my chair over to the center of the table. My desk was a mess. Papers and notebooks crowded my calendar. As I brushed them aside, August began to peak through, and it faced me dead in the eye. One look down- August 7. I picked up my red pen, circled the date, and began to write: NEVER FORGET.
My desk phone rang. I jumped, turned over my left shoulder and realized my secretary was trying to get a hold of me. “Hey, Nathan. You ok? Your office is locked.”
Was I a coward? There I sat, sheltered and safe, door locked…afraid. I was afraid to face the truth. I looked up at the clock again. “I have to call him.”
My father and I are fortunate enough to have an amazing relationship. He was tough on me growing up, but I always knew the reasons. He was a passionate man-one who glowed whenever he spoke in his native tongue or spoke of his village. He was so passionate that by the time I rolled into my late teens, I began to wish I were born in his hometown. I wanted to have the same connection, the same bond. That wasn’t the case though, so I promised myself I would eventually establish that identity in the future. A promise I now thought I could no longer keep.
Hill of Stones
It was time. By the time I got to my contacts, I was shaking. When I clicked “Dad,” I had to put the speaker on, unable to focus on keeping the phone to my ear.
“Hey, Dad, how are you? How’s mom? How’s Yome?”
“We’re doing ok. Mom and I just got back from a walk. Yome is doing great. She is the toughest lady I know.”
My Grandma was 104 years old and had just injured her hip falling down. Her doctor couldn’t believe the recovery, and we were convinced she had some sort of super abilities.
A little bit of silence followed. It was unusual, because my dad was always especially alert, in person or on the phone. But then I began to hear the quivers…
“Those animals. They took my town. They took Tel-Keppe.”
The crying was something I couldn’t take. My dad, the most powerful man I knew, the man who could pierce your skin by the look in his eyes, was crying hysterically.
“It’ll be fine dad. This is temporary. Tel-Keppe is timeless.”
More crying. I dug my face into my hands, felt the stinging sensation of tears rolling down my cheeks. Hopelessness.
“My house, my church, my school. These cowards…these cowards.”
He was right. The house he slept in was gone. The church he walked to on Sundays, gone. The school he sat in everyday, gone. But just then, I removed my face from my hands and looked up at the white ceiling tiles in my office. I envisioned a family traveling by foot-a father and mother, three kids, and a grandmother. I pictured them struggling in the heat, yearning for water and food, praying for shelter. I saw the father carry essentials in a bag draped over his shoulder and back, the mother carrying her youngest child, the grandmother holding the hands of the two older boys, limping with every step.
“Dad, do you trust me? I need you to trust me.”
“Of course, son.”
“Do we believe me when I tell you we will go to Tel-Keppe, walk the streets, feel the dirt, visit the church?”
“Brony, I will be ok. Don’t worr…”
“No, Dad. I’m serious. I promise that we will go there, and we will laugh and smile. You’ll finally show me where you played soccer and where you farmed. I promise.”
“I believe you.”
“Dad, I’ll fight forever to make it happen.”
“That’s why you’re Tel-Keppenaya.”
The day my father cried was the day I realized I didn’t need to be born in his village-I already felt the same dirt he did. It was the day I realized the village that sat on a hill of stones, the only village he ever loved, was my only homeland.
Nathan Kalasho – ADFA Representative