Since June 2014, when Islamic State attacked northern Iraq, the desks at Mar Ephrem seminary in Hamdaniya, a city 18 miles southeast of Mosul, have stood empty. Today, they are dusty and rooms once teeming with priests and nuns in training are dark; student ID cards, with titles such as 'Syrian Catholic: Parish of Bashiqa, Iraq', litter the floor and a statue of the Virgin Mary lies smashed. Now, Isis are gone. But in their wake an eerie quiet remains and the path of destruction is a visible reminder of their legacy, with thousands of houses destroyed in the fierce battle to retake the city last October. And for the Christians who live in Hamdaniya, the question remains: will they ever be able to return to the place they have called home for thousands of years?
Before Isis came, Hamdaniya (also known as Qaraqosh and Bakhdida, the Turkish and Assyrian names for the same place, by locals) was the largest Christian city in Iraq.