Bombs are falling and the sound of the explosion is sending shock and fear into the hearts of the people. Amid the sound of crying and frenzied activity, people pack up what belongings they can carry and make off into the night.
In the midst of it all, on the night of Aug. 6, stands Martin Baani, a 24-year-old seminarian. It’s dawning on him that this is Karamlesh’s last stand.
For 1,800 years, Christianity has had a home in the hearts and minds of the people of this town so full of antiquity. Now that era is about to be brought to a calamitous end; Islamic State are advancing.
Martin’s mobile phone rings: a friend stammers out the news that the nearby town of Telkaif has fallen to “Da’ash” – the Arabic name for Islamic State. Karamlesh would surely be next.
Martin dashes out of his aunt’s house, where he is staying, and heads for the nearby St Addai’s Church. He takes the Blessed Sacrament, a bundle of official papers, and walks out of the church. Outside a car awaits – his parish priest, Father Thabet, and three other priests are inside.
Martin gets in and the car speeds off. They leave Karamlesh and the last remnants of the village’s Christian presence go with them.
Speaking to Martin in the calm of St. Peter’s Seminary, Ankawa – a suburb of the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil – it is difficult to imagine he is describing anything except a bad dream. But there is nothing dreamy in Martin’s expression. “Until the very last minute, the Peshmerga were telling us it was safe.”
“But then we heard that they were setting up big guns on St Barbara’s Hill (on the edge of the village) and we knew then the situation had become very dangerous.”
Taking stock of that terrible night, Martin’s confidence is bolstered by the presence of 27 other seminarians at St. Peter’s, many with their own stories of escape from the clutches of the Islamic militants.