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June 10, 2014. Botkyrka, Sweden. I am in bed sleeping heavily. The phone starts ringing over and over again, it just won’t stop. I look at the time, it’s way too early. Maybe it’s one of my employees calling in sick. I let him leave a message in my voicemail. The phone just won’t stop ringing. I pick the phone up. I read the text message, feeling the panic taking over. My whole body start to shake and I drop the phone. The terror sect ISIS has invaded the town I was born in, Mosul.
I try to get myself together. I have to get hold of my family members, my aunts and their families, my grandmother, friends. Are they safe? I ask other family members in Sweden to help me with phone calls to Iraq.
I send a personal message to journalist Nuri Kino. He knows what’s going on in the Middle East, especially towards the Christians. He says directly that he doesn’t know for sure whether ISIS is in Mosul or not, but at the same time he’s also trying to get in touch with people he knows there. Only minutes after I read a post by him; he interviewed a man who’s been expelled by force from Sweden. He’s an eyewitness to the Jihadists celebrating their takeover of Iraq’s second largest city.
My family? No news. I spend the following day watching the news in all medias, mainstream as well as social, and I keep trying to get hold of one of my ten cousins, my aunts and my grandmother. I can’t get hold of anyone. I’m paralyzed. I’ve stopped functioning.
June 11, 2014. One of my aunts is calling. She has reached the Christian city of Ankawa, in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Her children and their families are also safe. The have spent the night in a church, all of them. She doesn’t know anything about Grandmother. They lost contact at the invasion.
We can’t get hold of any other family members. A friend says that all cell phones and other possessions were stolen by ISIS.
June 12, 2014. My aunt in Dohuk, another city in the Kurdish region of Iraq, is calling to tell me that Grandmother is alive. When she realized that ISIS had taken over Mosul and that there was no future there for Christians, that they would be killed, she got hold of a taxi driver. She offered him her expensive gold necklace in exchange that he drove her to her sister in Dohuk.
He assured her that he would see to that she’d be out of Mosul unharmed and that he wouldn’t leave her until he dropped her outside my aunt’s front door. My 89-year-old grandmother settled into his taxi cab. Outside Mosul, he stopped the car at the side of the road, grabbed her gold necklace and threw her out of his car. It was in the middle of the day, the sun was burning with a temperature at 40 degrees Celsius. After walking for a couple of hours, she fainted. She wakes up in a Sunni family home. They told her not to be scared, that they weren’t Islamists and that they’d protect her. Two days later she had recovered, and they drove her to Dohuk. They saved her life.
Days go by. Months. I am calling Iraq almost daily. A full-scale genocide is going on, against Assyrians/Syriacs/Chaldeans and other Christians, Yazidis and other non-Muslims. My relatives are living in barracks. When there is a power failure, which happens pretty frequently, these barracks become cold as iceboxes. That’s what my friends and relatives has to live with.
On December 3, I get to know that Nuri Kino has established a human rights and charitable organization called ADFA (A Demand for Action). They collect sleeping bags, blankets and rugs in Södertälje, Sweden.
I do my best to help them collect as much stuff as possible. I’m personally affected, most of the helpers aren’t. Of course, I need to do as much as I can to help.
A few years later, ADFA announces that they are going to Lebanon and that they need help with the transportation of medical supplies from Södertälje, south of Stockholm, to Arlanda Airport. Immediately I volunteer to help.
Two years have passed since that day at Arlanda Airport. Two years later I serve as a board member of ADFA. I have made three trips to Iraq, and one to Lebanon in my role as board member. Each trip has been magical. I was there in Iraq when the young girl Kristina, who became a symbol of the genocide against Christians when she was kidnapped by ISIS in the invasion, reunited with her family. The girl was missing for three years.
Last December, I traveled to Lebanon to help the volunteers of ADFA and Syriac League with the distribution of food, and the arrangement of a big Christmas party for children, as well as documenting these events. It was a bittersweet experience. It’s of course very rewarding to be able to make the life of refugees a little brighter. At the same time, it’s hard to go back home knowing that regardless of how much we do, it’s never enough.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a representative of the US State Department. It was an honor to be a spokesperson for my relatives and many other refugees all over the world escaping terrorists who wants to murder them.
My grandmother, aunt, uncle and my cousins are still at the refugee centers in Ankawa. My family is sending money to them, every once in a while, so that they will survive. Not live. Survive.
A Demand For Action