On August 6th, 2022, refugees and displaced persons from the Nineveh Plain will be observing the eight-year anniversary of the 2014 ISIS insurgency. This is known by Iraqi Christians as “The Black Day.” It is a solemn observance of remembrance for the lives, freedoms and livelihoods lost and uprooted by ISIS terrorists as they swept across Iraq’s Nineveh Plain. 

Last year, refugees at the Olive Tree Center held an internationally live streamed concert to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the ISIS insurgency that removed them from their homes, friends, families and communities. They displayed unique expressions of creativity and joy, in direct defiance of the terrorists who desired the destruction of their hearts.  

Their stories were powerful, like that of Stavro, a young teenager participating in programs at the Olive Tree Center. Young Stavro, aged six at the time that ISIS invaded his homeland, had this to say:

“A part of us died that day. We had to flee our city overnight, because if we stayed, we would have starved or died. We walked many miles to get away, with so many dead people, burned houses, and bodies. We asked our parents when we could return to our joys, our schools, and normal life, but we had no answer. We didn’t know how we would survive, but we believed God was with us. We came to Madaba, [and I] fell in love with this city, [where] we prayed that the war would end and for all nations to know God.”

Another refugee, Haneen, delivered a powerful poem about her experience fleeing ISIS, in which she said that she not only forgives the ISIS insurgents that caused her suffering, but that she loves them as Christ loves us. She credits the difficulties she has faced through her personal connection with Jesus Christ.

“Joseph’s brothers wanted evil in him, but God brought out of their evil a good for the whole world. Finally, at the beginning of the suffering, I used to say, may God forgive them, but today I say thank you to ISIS the terrorists, because without their brutality and their control over our areas, many of nominal Christians would not have returned to their creator and become true believers in him. 

“The first of them is me, as without that catastrophe that befell us, it would have been very possible that I would not know Christ personally, would not be here to share with you my testimony and would not be Haneen who is standing in front of you today.”

These moving testimonies were accompanied by joyous cultural displays. The Olive Tree Center community came together to celebrate and share their culture. Through displays of music from the guitar class, poetry from the English language classes, wearing of the traditional garb and a joyous dabke dance, the event concluded on a positive and uplifting note for the hope of a promising future for all of the Iraqi Christian refugees. 

This year, as the refugees at the Olive Tree Center gather to remember the day that changed their lives forever, we stand in solidarity with them. May their remembrances of this “Black Day” bring further healing to their hearts, and may they teach the world about the beautiful, living cultures of the Nineveh Plain, Iraq and the resilience of faith in the face of persecution. 

Life is not easy for Iraqi refugees. As adversity grows, programs are needed to protect the most vulnerable of these refugees. American FRRME is committed to offering long term self-sustaining programs and opportunities to help empower refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Donations to American FRRME go to programs that will aid in the survival of families facing violence across the Middle East.

American FRRME works to support the ongoing needs of Iraqis – primarily Christian Iraqis – who fled Iraq and Kurdistan during the ISIS insurgency in 2014. The organization supports those displaced within Iraq many of whom remain living in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in Baghdad and northern Iraq, as well as supporting those who fled to neighboring Jordan. 

Working in partnership with churches in Iraq and Jordan, American FRRME is on the ground, providing food, clothing, shelter, education and more. In 2019 we established the Olive Tree Center in Madaba, Jordan. The center provides a safe and accessible place for Iraqi refugees to gather together and celebrate their culture together. Crucially, the center provides education and therapeutic activities including English classes, sewing, art and music, along with a mosaic and wood workshop and fresh produce garden.