In August of 2014, ISIS militants swept through towns near Mosul, Iraq, taking control and forcing thousands to flee. Among the towns was Qaraqosh, which was Iraq’s largest Christian city with a population of 50,000. For more than two years, occupying ISIS jihadists tried to erase any evidence of Christianity from Qaraqosh—burning churches, destroying icons and statues, toppling bell towers, and more. Qaraqosh was retaken by Iraqi forces in October of 2016, but the city remains almost completely deserted. Little by little, some residents who were forced to flee have been returning to recover what belongings remain, to assess the damage to their property, and to attend church services and holidays. Only a handful of families have moved back to the city so far, still fearing for their security, as Iraqi forces continue to battle ISIS in nearby Mosul.
A Syriac Christian militiaman stands guard on top of the Saint John’s church (Mar Yohanna) during an Easter procession in the nearly-deserted predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), some 30 kilometers from Mosul, on April 16, 2017.
A fighter from the NPU (Nineveh Plain Protection Units) walks through a destroyed church on November 8, 2016 in Qaraqosh, Iraq. The NPU is a military organization made up of Assyrian Christians and was formed in late 2014 to defend against ISIS.
A woman looks to salvage items from the rubble at the back of a church in Qaraqosh on December 22, 2016.
A smashed statue of Jesus Christ sits on the altar of a church burned and destroyed by ISIS during their occupation of the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh on December 27, 2016
The remains of a destroyed church stand in the town of Qaraqosh on April 13, 2017.
A soldier from the U.S Army stands guard next to a defaced christian statue during Christmas Day mass at Mar Hanna church in Qaraqosh on December 25, 2016.
Chemicals used by Islamic State militants to produce bombs are seen inside a warehouse at a church in the town of Qaraqosh, Iraq, on April 12, 2017.
The broken cross of a Christian Church in the town of Qaraqosh on November 26, 2016, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from ISIS jihadists.
A member of the NPU rings the bell of a destroyed church in Qaraqosh on March 3, 2017.
Policemen look through a hole in a house from the clashes in Qaraqosh, on December 9, 2016.
Christian militia fighters from the Nineveh Plain Protection Units drive a pick-up truck in Qaraqosh, transporting four men, allegedly members of ISIS, that were found inside a tunnel in Mosul, on December 20, 2016.
An ISIS billboard is seen destroyed in the middle of the road on November 8, 2016 in Qaraqosh, Iraq.
A priest walks through the streets of Qaraqosh on November 4, 2016.
Interior of the heavily damaged Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh on December 4, 2016, one month after Iraqi forces recaptured it from ISIS.
An Iraqi Christian soldier attends the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh on October 30, 2016.
Iraqi priests hold the first mass in the damaged Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured on November 2, 2016.
A destroyed Santa Claus costume lies on the floor of Saint John’s Church (Mar Yohanna) during an Easter ceremony in the Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh on April 16, 2017.
Volunteers from the Iraqi town of Qaraqosh build a giant cross on the main road, as they try to return to normal life after ISIS jihadists were expelled in October of 2016.
Farmer Sami Yuhanna inspects his farm that contains buildings destroyed by clashes in Qaraqosh, Iraq, on February 9, 2017.
An Assyrian Christian artist who fled the Islamic State in 2014 from Qaraqosh, returns to his family home to begin sorting through his belongings that were ransacked for valuables by ISIS militants on February 4, 2016. His house, where he was raised, is the only property in his family that was not completely destroyed. He lives in an IDP camp in the Christian neighborhood of Ainkawa in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish Region of Iraq.
Boys visit the burnt out main church as Iraqis attend the first Palm Sunday procession in the Christian city of Qaraqosh on April 9, 2017.
An Iraqi Christian volunteer and his son paint over signs and writings by ISIS militants in Qaraqosh on February 7, 2017, after the militants were driven out by the government army.
A banner bearing a crucifix is hung on the side of a guard box at a checkpoint on a road leading into the town of Qaraqosh on April 16, 2017 near Mosul, Iraq.
An Iraqi soldier cleans chairs as others attend the first Palm Sunday procession in the burnt out main church of the Christian city of Qaraqosh since Iraqi forces retook it, on April 9, 2017.
Iraqi Christians pray at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, damaged by ISIS fighters during their occupation of Qaraqosh, on November 12, 2016.
A man sweeps dust off pews in preparation for the Christmas Day mass at the Mar Hanna Church on December 22, 2016.
Iraqi Christian residents of Qaraqosh attend the first Palm Sunday service at the heavily damaged Church of the Immaculate Conception on April 9, 2017, since Iraqi forces recaptured it.
An Iraqi Syriac Christian girl smiles during an Easter procession at the Saint John’s church (Mar Yohanna) in the town of Qaraqosh on April 16, 2017.
Christians take communion during Easter mass in Qaraqosh, Iraq, on April 16 2017.
Iraqi women cry as they attend an easter procession at the Saint John’s church (Mar Yohanna) in the nearly deserted Iraqi town of Qaraqosh on April 16, 2017.
People stand by a big cross in the town of Qaraqosh on April 13, 2017.
Iraqi Christian residents from Qaraqosh take part in a parade on April 9, 2017, as Christians celebrate the first Palm Sunday event in the town since Iraqi forces recaptured it from ISIS jihadists.