SEATTLE — On June 9, 2014, ISIS invaded Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Close to Mosul is Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, also taken over by ISIS militants. Qaraqosh was the former home of Hamdaniyah University, which was forced to close after the ISIS invasion. The institution reopened in December of 2015 in Ankawa, a suburb outside of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Hamdaniyah University is a new, independent version of Mosul University’s Qaraqosh campus. The Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil gave land and supplied classrooms for displaced students to take classes in Ankawa. The Italian Bishops’ Conference gave 2.5 million U.S. dollars to support the opening of the school.
Many of the 60,000 Christians that once made up the religious minority in Mosul, fled in fear of persecution. While ISIS occupies territory just outside Erbil, the city has become the home of many Christians seeking relative safety. The new university building is located among residential buildings and refugee camps.
Hamdaniyah University is the first catholic university in the city. It welcomes students of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and religions. Out of the 1,600 students studying at Hamdaniyah University, 400 are internally displaced.
“We should not stop teaching and studying because we are displaced,” university president Muzahim Alkhyatt told Al Jazeera reporter. “Kurds, Arabs, Yazidis, Sunnis, Shia are living in a peaceful way, as if they were one family. This is the goal of the university. If you think education is only for certain people, you will fail.”
Hamdaniyah University aims to offer higher education for those whose lives have been uprooted due to war. The university reestablishes routine, provides a bit of normality and gives a sense of hope to students whose perception of the future is clouded with uncertainty. Now displaced university students from across Iraq are able to continue their education.
The university offers courses in computer science, economics, languages, literature, theology, and plans to open a masters program in law next year. According to Alkhyatt, the school takes at least 250 new students each year.
Despite the lack of funding and small budget, university vice president Anis Behnam Naoum boasts a 50 to 60 percent success rate among students.
While the internally displaced have many reasons to leave Iraq, the Hamdaniyah University gives them at least one reason to stay and presents them with a choice.
– Erica Rawles