Refugees commemorate 8th anniversary of Islamic State invasion of Iraq

People celebrate Iraqi culture at the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan | Photo provided by American FRRME

An American Christian charity providing relief in the Middle East stood in solidarity with Iraqi refugees in Jordan to mark the eighth anniversary of the Islamic State's invasion of northern Iraq.

Refugees gathered at the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan, to observe the anniversary of when IS took control of the Nineveh Plains of northern Iraq on Saturday, according to the American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East.

Founded in 2009, the foundation primarily supported the ministries of Saint George's Church in Baghdad at first, the only Anglican church in Iraq. Currently, American FRRME helps refugees in Iraq and Jordan by facilitating their return home. 

American FRRME Chairman Col. Max Wood told The Christian Post in an interview that the anniversary observation was like a talent show with the Iraqi refugees having a chance to sing, dance and express their culture in front of everyone.

According to Wood, Aug. 6, 2014, is known by many Iraqi Christians as "The Black Day" because it was the day that hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes in northern Iraq. 

"It's important for us to emphasize to the media the degree of devastation that ISIS brought," Wood said. "They didn't just come and take over the place. They destroyed places. They destroyed everything they couldn't steal." 

"And they took over large houses for their temporary residence and then destroyed everything else. And then, when they left the large houses, they destroyed most of the large houses. And they did this village by village, by village, by village, through the summer of 2014." 

According to the nonprofit's website, there are over 2.9 million registered refugees in Jordan and over 1 million Christians who fled there have been denied citizenship, thereby leaving their children considered stateless. 

According to the Washington-based think tank Wilson Center, IS emerged from the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq and held about 40% of Iraq and one-third of Syria at its height. The group killed and expected thousands of civilians, instituted strict Sharia law in territories under its control and enslaved thousands of women and girls as sex slaves. 

But by 2017, the terrorist group had lost about 95% of its territory, including its two largest strongholds — Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. 

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that more than 6 million Iraqis were displaced amid the military operations to combat IS in Iraq and Syria from 2014 to 2017. 

In October 2019, American FRRME opened the Olive Tree Center in Madaba. The center provides art and music therapy programs, English learning classes for children and adults, a garden with fresh vegetables for refugees and other hands-on learning opportunities.

The Olive Center was constructed for Christians who fled their homes in Iraq, Syria, and other neighboring countries.

The American FRRME wanted to commemorate the anniversary because its leaders continued to hear about the day from the refugees they are helping.

"They were quietly commemorating it as individuals, and we decided to commemorate it and to publicize it," Wood stated. 

The American FFRME was organized in New Hampshire in 2009 and obtained nonprofit status in early 2010. The organization is funded primarily through donations.

According to Wood, the group was started by seven people, most of whom had served in Iraq. 

"Two of the members had not served in Iraq but were in the Bush administration working on matters relating to Iraq and had military backgrounds," he told CP.

To date, the group has launched 13 unique projects and provided relief to over 7,600 refugees.

The chairman reported that American FRRME operates under the assumption that people need three things: prayer, partnership and publicity.

He hopes that informing the public about what happened and what the organization is doing will inspire others to support the organization's mission.

"We hope to raise awareness, to raise funds and to give the Iraqis an opportunity to have that catharsis experience of expressing themselves," Wood stated. 

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