The damage suffered by Iraq’s educational institutions over the course of the three-year war against ISIS has been well documented. Eager to destroy or subvert all institutions that did not adhere to the group’s vision, ISIS militants plundered educational institutions in the areas they occupied, leaving virtually nothing in their wake. A number of the country’s leading institutions, such as the University of Mosul, have managed to somewhat recover. However, services in more provincial institutions remain lacking. Now, a group of Iraqi Christians have come together to assist the students of the University of Hamdaniya.
Founded in 2011 to primarily serve Iraqi Christians, the university was forced to shut its doors in the summer of 2014, just weeks after its first batch of students graduated. The school operated temporarily out of the city of Erbil alongside students from Samarra and Erbil. The liberation of the mainly-Christian town of Qaraqosh in late-2016 allowed students to return to the region and Iraq’s Ministry of Education granted the University its licence soon after.
However, despite being granted a license, many of the university facilities are lacking. Accommodation remains a particularly pressing problem. Although ISIS has been pushed out of Qaraqosh, reconstruction in the region has been slow. Many homes remain destroyed or abandoned and their owners unaccounted for. With even the locals of Hamdaniya lacking places to stay, accommodating an influx of students from other parts of Iraq has been challenging. Many students here say that they are forced to travel 20-25 kilometres every day to attend classes.
It is under these circumstances that the the Christians here have launched a project under the name “We Build the Country Together”. The project, launched with support of community leaders in Qaraqosh and support from their compatriots from Iraq’s central and southern regions, seeks to raise awareness of the students’ plight, get the Iraqi Ministry of Education to provide assistance and facilitate support networks between the students and the local community networks here.
As the name suggests, the project is not aimed solely at Christian students of all backgrounds. Although the main goal of the project is to support the students locally, the project has a wider vision of fostering cooperation and reconciliation across all of Iraq’s communities. Their efforts will likely find plenty of support around the country. Since 2014, many civil society groups have emerged across Iraq, fostering communal peace in an explicit rejection of ISIS’ vision. Just as the Christians in Qaraqosh have rallied with the students of the University, regardless of background, so have many Muslims in Iraq have rallied around Iraq’s Christians to help restore churches and community centres.