Despite the battle against ISIS raging throughout Iraq and Syria, Christian refugees in Erbil — the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan — have pulled together some celebrations this Christmas. Photographs from the region show holiday decorations and preparations despite the terrorist group's efforts to wipe away Iraqi Christian culture.
"Talk of Christmas and Christian occasions is forbidden under ISIS," Syrian researcher Sulaiman Youssef told Al-Arabiya, adding that those who could fled. "Those who have remained are a few families of elderly who couldn’t leave and are forced to pay the jizya [tax] to ISIS." Before Christmas Eve, ISIS militants announced they had shot down a Jordanian fighter jet and captured the pilot — a new demonstration of strength.
Kurdish news agency BasNews reports that "Christian people fled to the Kurdistan Region and settled in refugees camps," according to Kurdistan's director of Christian affairs, Khalid Jamal Albert, and "now they are living in a terrible conditions." Albert estimates that 12,000 Christian families live in Erbil, with thousands more nearby — not to mention those who have gone abroad.
But for those in camps, holiday celebrations were given a little boost by Operation Christmas Child, a joint venture between Evangelical Christian leaders in Samaritan's purse and Franklin Graham (son of the famed televangelist Billy Graham), which will airdrop 60,000 shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts to the war-torn region. They'll be distributed in a refugee camp in Erbil.
"Most of [the refugees] are living in tents without floors. Samaritan's purse has provided a large number of heaters and winter coats. They are doing the best that they can in a tent community, a tent city,"
Operation Christmas Child domestic director Randy Riddle told. "These shoeboxes will just be additional forms of encouragement. These conditions are difficult. We are unable to change their permanent condition but we are able to provide a moment of hope and a reminder that these children are loved."
See more photos of Erbil's Christmas celebrations below.