Criminality in Bartella
On Monday the 13th of May 2019, a group of armed men broke into an Assyrian Christian home in the Hay el-Askari neighborhood of Bartella. Using bladed weapons they physically attacked two elderly women before stealing their cash and valuables. The two women were hospitalized and suffered from severe cuts.
On the 15th of May 2019, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) arrested two male individuals from Bartella who confessed being part of the perpetrators who committed this heinous crime.
ISF also confiscated several unlicensed weapons including three AK-47s and four hand grenades inside the house of one of the perpetrators.
Although this is the sole incident that has received remote media coverage (mainly social media; Facebook), this is certainly not a single occurrence. This title incident marks the 15th criminally authored incident in the Sub-District of Bartella since January 2018, these included: one intimidation, one abduction, two robberies, four direct fires and seven assaults. That is at least three incidents per month. Thus, since January 2019, criminal incidents occurring in the Bartella Sub-District amount to 55% of criminality in the Hamdaniya District (15 out of 27).
These incidents seem to be orchestrated and target the original people of Bartella, i.e. the Assyrian Christians. According to the ISF, with regard to this title incident: the timing and profile of the victims indicate that the perpetrators selectively chose their target. The perpetrators seem to have been living in the very same neighborhood of Hay el-Askari, which is located in northeast of Bartella and used be purely inhabited by the indigenous Assyrian Christian community; however, during the last few years a huge demographic change has occurred and the vicinity is now also occupied by the Shiite Shabaks. As a result, the Assyrian community of the region no longer feels safe in their own neighborhood, which is now suffering from poor socioeconomic status in contrast to the other neighborhoods of Bartella.
In the recent years, after 2003, especially after the liberation of the town from ISIS, Bartella has been subject to a huge demographic change. Bartella, which is 20km (12.5ml) to the east of Mosul, is an ancient Assyrian town and until very recently, most of its inhabitants were Assyrian Christians; however, it is surrounded by the Shiite Shabak villages. Being Shiites, the Shabaks receive Iran’s and Baghdad’s full support – not only financial, but political and military backing as well.
According to one Assyrian Christian official who is a native of Bartella, and prefers to remain anonymous: ”Because the Shabaks are Shiites and enjoy very good relations with Baghdad, the government in Baghdad takes away our lands and grants them to the Shabaks.” Furthermore, he asserts: “the Shabaks come from other villages and seize our lands and houses; we currently have more than one hundred pieces of land that have been illegally seized by the Shabaks.”
When Restore Nineveh Now asked if any legal action had been taken against such offenses, the official replied: “The Shabaks are in full control in Bartella, they hold all the key positions, and we have nothing as Assyrian Christians.”
Another Assyrian Christian whose house has been illegally seized by another Shabak and who refuses to leave the house, said: “They dominate the security force here, they hold all the key official positions and are fully backed by Baghdad.” He then continued: “They also play the Kurdish card, so when they don’t get their way from Baghdad – and they do, they get it through the KRG.
Why Demographic Change?
Historically speaking, the Shabak villages were underdeveloped because education almost did not exist among them, nor do their women enjoy equality and freedom. This is the main motivating factor, causing them to move into Bartella and seize the Assyrian Christian lands due to the fact that Bartella is better developed than their villages. They either seize the land they set their eyes on or they force the house and/or land owner to sell his/her property. They are fully supported by the local authorities and the government in Baghdad. They are able to do all this because administratively, their villages belong to the Sub-District of Bartella. As they move into Bartella, they drive the Assyrian Christians away from the community which they settle in. This is because there is a huge cultural difference between the Assyrians and the Shabaks, especially in regard to gender equality. The Assyrian Christian women and girls enjoy relative freedom and are able to go out into the town uncovered and unaccompanied by their male family members. This is simply not the case when it comes to the Shabaks; their men and boys verbally harass the Assyrian Christian women and girls. Thus, the Assyrian women and girls no longer feel safe in their neighborhood and the whole family is forced to move from the area. Furthermore, the Shabak youth harass and physically attack the Assyrian men and boys, making them feel helpless and as if they cannot defend themselves because the Shabak youth is backed by the local authorities, which is entirely dominated by the Shabaks.
This demographic change is happening under the pretext that the Shabaks are really not doing anything wrong; they are simply relocating within their administrative sectors. The government in Baghdad is also using this same pretext in order to gift the Shabak land grants.
Thus, according to the same Assyrian Christian official; the only hope they have is the initiation of new administrative units within the Shabak areas. This will prevent them from moving into the Bartella Sub-District because they will have their own Sub-Districts. The official continued asserting: “In all of our national and international meetings, we appeal to the Iraqi government and the international community to develop the Shabbak villages and provide them with the necessary services; and find new administrative units for them.” He concluded by saying: “This would greatly reduce the pressure on Bartella and prevent any further demographic change.”
As Restore Nineveh Now, we strongly condemn the actions of the Shabaks and call on Baghdad and the local authorities to put an immediate stop to these coercive tactics and the aggressive demographic change, which we see as an orchestrated effort to drive the Assyrian Christians out of what remains for them in the Nineveh Plains.