We are in Erbil. The atmosphere is relaxed, the seven volunteers and the four translators have finished lunch. Cap and glasses on the nose, our translator and friend, Peetros, is one of these young men who have lived several lives before coming to work with SOS Chrétiens d’Orient.
Those hard years can be read in their diplomatic and bright or laughing eyes, sometimes tinted with melancholy.
When we finally ask him to tell us his life, to make it known to our French readers, he accepts with his usual spirit. So we settle on the terrace of our house, with a coffee, a notebook and our sunglasses.
The sun is at its zenith and despite his smile and joy of living, Peetros is about to tell the most dramatic and tragic episodes of his life.
For this 26-year-old bearded young men, it all starts in Mosul, his birthplace: "I grew up with my parents, my three brothers and my sister in an affluent family. Everything was fine! My dad had two companies in the building sector. Problems started in 2006, when my uncle was held hostage by Al Qaeda... he was working in a company that was doing business with Americans. My dad had to sell a lot of his goods to pay the $ 150.000 ransom. But the terrorists didn't keep their word. Despite the amount of money we paid to them, my father found his brother's dead body when he arrived at the location indicated by Al Qaeda contact. "
Bruised by this tragic episode, the family of Peetros leaves Mosul and settled in Qaraqosh, a Christian city 40 minutes southwest of Mosul. They live there for two years thanks to their savings as Peetro’s father decided to try his luck in Sweden. He tests the water to assess his chances to raise his family there. Peetros concluded: "My dad finally came back from Sweden. He told us that the future of our family was not abroad. That his brother died in Iraq and he would die in Iraq too! I don't think he get used to the European way of life."
Peetros and his family finally settled in Duhok (northern Iraq), where his father launched a new professional activity... until the arrival of the Islamic State in 2014. Immediately realizing the imminent danger, he takes his wife and children in an emergency to Lebanon. They will stay there for five months, but: "Once again, my dad wanted to return to Iraq, like a few years before. He told us that our future was in Iraq, on the land of our uncle and our ancestors. That's when we moved to Erbil. "
There, Peetros and his family live in insecurity and use various tricks and survival precautions.
In February 2017, Peetros is 23 years old. The fighting rage between the Iraqi army and jihadists for the conquest of Mosul. Out of love for his hometown and his whole country, Peetros decides to join an NGO that helps the wounded on the front line.
"As I arrived in Mosul, I land in the middle of an urban guerrilla. I'm right behind the lines of the Iraqi army who regain ground step by step. With my team, we evacuate the wounded by dozens, every day, 24 hours a day. The NGO sent me on site thanks to my level of English: I was a link between the wounded Iraqis and foreign volunteer nurses. At the same time, I also had to act as a driver to bring volunteers away from the front, and the one of a nurse for first aid. Finally, I had to make sure they were safe and supervise them. During this period, I slept very little... it was a day-to-day work.
I was also raising money with friends so I could distribute food packages to Iraqi families. We got a donation of € 10.000 from a guy in Switzerland! With hindsight, I realize it was the adrenaline that made me hold on."
Peetros spent a year on the war front, including five months in the city. Every day he faces bombing, bullets fired from Kalashnikovs, blood and death.
His smile suddenly switches off and a shadow crosses his features despite the bright sun flooding our terrace. He tells us about a friend with whom he spent five months. "His name was Ahmed, he was an emergency doctor on the front line. He was really a good, dedicated and brave guy, a friend. And then one day, I was called for help to get a dead body out of an ambulance that had just returned from the front. I was used to it. When I open the ambulance door, I see a dead man whose face has been turned into a porridge! It was horrible.
So I'm searching the body, looking for ID papers. It's the procedure you know. We always need to identify bodies, for families. Finally I find a wallet, which I open. My heart stops beating for a moment. I recognize this face on the identity papers: it's Ahmed's. This bloody corpse I hold in my hands is that of my friend, my brother in arms!" Peetros suddenly stops talking, eyes hidden under his cap. We dare to stop his silence which cries out the sadness of his memories. He slowly continues: "Imagine... his mom called me after a while asking why she was constantly redirected to the answering machine when she was trying to reach her son. I had to explain to her that he was dead."
The silence is falling again. What explanation can a mother hear when it comes to the death of her own son? None of us here ever hope to be in such a situation. We also realize that our friend has gone through so many hardships and suffering. One of his songs (because Peetros is also a rapper) says "No birds on my tree because it has no leaves".
How can you blame him for sometimes being desperate? The conversation starts again, we change the subject. The atmosphere softens, we talk about our mission, our evening of last day. Then we enjoy another cup of coffee, and Peetros, who regains his wide smile, evokes another one of his memories. He tells us, laughing, that we better increase his salary if we dare to publish the following lines (so we will never send him the link of the article). "Another time in Mosul”, he says, “as the rockets were raining, I got a shell sparkle in my butt while I was running for cover. This hurt me so bad man!"
Finally, our national Peetros explains how he ended up in our association SOS Chrétiens d’Orient: "I met a girl during the Battle of Mosul. Her name is Aude and is a French volunteer nurse. At the time, she came to Iraq alone, without knowing anyone on the spot, to heal the wounded on the liberation front! What courage! I was so admiring! So I introduced her some people and helped her as I could. Then I returned to Erbil in 2018 and saw her again by pure accident; she had met other French people who, she told me, work to help Christians in Iraq. She introduced them to me and this is how I met Pierre, the former head of mission in Iraq, and joined the SOS team!" Definitely, great minds think alike!
Peetros quickly became an essential element of the mission in Iraq. Today, he accompanies us in all our activities. A rapper in his spare time, he regularly rocks us with well-felt verses.
Paul-Henri, volunteer in Iraq.
After having experienced the violent clashes in Mosul, Peetros acts for his Iraqi brothers displaced from the plain of Nineveh. Support his action.