Two families of greengrocers, one Shabak and one Christian, have been running their shop together for decades, coming to represent peaceful co-existence in Bartella
The town of Bartella is located in the Nineveh Province of northern Iraq, only a few kilometres east of the city of Mosul. The town was attacked and invaded by ISIS militants in early August of 2014. Most inhabitants had escaped the town before the group overran it after being warned of their advance onto the town.
However, Bartella was not spared of ISIS’ destruction. A day after they took control of the town, they burned liquor stores, looted houses and food stores, hung their flags on the walls of churches, pulled down the crosses and demanded the few remaining Christian locals of either converting to Islam, staying in the city and paying a yearly tax of $200 or face execution.
After around years of occupation, ISIS was eventually defeated in Bartella in October 2016 by a coalition of forces including the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and the Assyrian Nineveh Plain Protection Units and the town was officially liberated. The liberation of the town led to the gradual return of residents to the town after years of displacement.
However, the defeat of ISIS did not spell the end of issues for the town and its residents. Tensions began to surface between the Shabak community and the Christian community in the town. Christian residents feel that Shabak armed groups are making it difficult for other Christian residents to resettle in their hometown and are attempting to alter the demographics of the town.
Despite these tensions, two grocers, one of whom is a Shabak and the other a Christian, are determined to show that Shabak and Christian communities can coexist peacefully and harmoniously. Ahmed and Qasim have been working together for years as grocers, which has allowed each person to learn more about each other’s religious beliefs and practices. “We want security and there are no problems between Muslims, Christians and other sects,” said Qasim.