Dangerous Road to Graduation
It was a regular school day morning last year, when 20 buses carrying Christian university students left the Iraqi town of Kara Gush. A local church provided these buses daily to more than a thousand Christian students studying at the University of Mosul 32 kilometers from Kara Gush. They were taking the students to their classes that morning, too. Halfway to the University of Mosul two bombs exploded twenty seconds apart from each other. The bombs killed Radeef Mahruk and wounded 144 students. One of these students, Sandy Shabib, died from her injuries in Erbil Hospital eight days after the attack. My brother, two of my cousins and I were also injured in this attack. I will never forget that day for the rest of my life: sound of the bombs, broken glass, students screaming, and blood everywhere!
The casualties could be much higher that day, if a local shop owner, Radeef Mahruk, didn’t sacrifice his life to save us. Nobody knows now how Radeef sensed the buses were going to be attacked but witnesses said that right before the bombs exploded he ran out of his shop and waved at the buses trying to stop them from approaching bomb-filled vehicles parked on the side of the road. Radeef’s bravery and selflessness caused him his life but saved the lives of many students in the buses. I didn’t see him running towards us but to this day I can still see his burning body on the street. Radeef is our modern-day Christian martyr. That day wasn’t the first time when Christian students from the University of Mosul were attacked. During 2009-2010 school year, there were two other attacks that wounded eight students.
In fear of new attacks, the church providing the transportation for the students has decided to stop the service after the bombing on May 2, 2010. This made it impossible for hundreds of students to get to their classes every morning. In 2011, about 48% of the Christian students at the University of Mosul had to postpone their school for one year. I was among only 20% of the students who decided to return to the University and was able to continue taking classes. After terrorists attacked Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad two months later, we started receiving new threats and I was forced to stop going to the university. It became too dangerous.
The Ministry of Education and Scientific Research has suggested the Christian students stay and study at home and only come to the university to take exams. We sent several representatives to the Ministry of Education and Scientific Research in Baghdad to ask them to build a university in our town so we don’t have to take the dangerous road to the University of Mosul every day. They agreed to open a new department of the University of Mosul’s College of Education in Kara Gush only for freshmen. I am in my fourth and final year in college, so the new department wouldn’t allow me to finish my education in my town. Next year I will have to transfer to another university located in a safer but, unfortunately, more remote location. I am not the only student who will have to find a new alma mater. About 10% of the Christian students currently studying at the University of Mosul have transferred to different universities to get their diplomas. About 7% had to drop out.
It is not easy to be a Christian in Iraq. Not only are Christian students attacked by the Islamic radicals for their religious beliefs. Other Christians are in constant danger as well. My family knows this firsthand. In 2007 I lost my father. One day he was kidnapped by a terrorist group demanding $20,000 ransom. Even though my family paid the money, they killed him two days later.
My family’s story is similar to many other Christians’ stories. In 2003, there were approximately 1.5 million Christians in Iraq out of a total population of 28 millions. Since then about half of them have fled the country due to the violence and insecurity they were facing every day. Those Christians who stayed in Iraq, including my family, live in a constant fear of being kidnapped, raped, tortured, or killed by Islamic radicals attacking us because of our religion.
I wish one day Christians, Muslims, and other religious groups could coexist in Iraq. I also hope that my family can live without the constant fear of being killed because of our beliefs. I want our government to see and treat each of us as citizens of Iraq without separating us into the followers of different religions. This separation harms not just Christians but Muslims as well because there are so many different religious groups within Muslim religion. I hope that I and students of all religions can go to any university without any fears and finish their education.