The call came at a Sunday Mass in October of last year. Abuna Georges, or Father Georges, was addressing displaced Christian Iraqis in a camp in Erbil, and he called on all the photographers from the city of Qaraqosh to unite.
The goal? To document the devastation suffered by their city, located just 20 miles south of Mosul, under two years of ISIS rule.
Ten people volunteered. For 12 days last November, they roamed the streets of Qaraqosh, photographing every house, shop, school and church that was damaged or destroyed in the fighting. “The idea was to document with pictures every single house of the city,” says Alessio Mamo, an Italian photographer who met Father Georges while covering displaced minorities in Iraq. So, when Father Georges’ team of photographers took to Qaraqosh’s streets, Mamo and freelance journalist Marta Bellingreri followed. “We felt this offered an interesting point of view on the aftermath of the battle against ISIS,” Mamo tells TIME.
Using satellite imagery – all official maps had been stolen from city hall – Father Georges worked with architects to list the town’s 6,000 buildings. Given their mission, the photographs shot thousands of images, documenting not only the damage to the exterior, but also to each room.
“We want to show what remains but also we want to be precise,” Father Georges told Bellingreri, who translated his statement for TIME. “In the future, we will build them again, so we want to leave these images for the future, to not to forget what has happened.”
The photographs will also be used to ask for compensation from the Iraqi government, which, Father Georges claims, didn’t try to protect them from the advancing ISIS militants.
“This work is very important for future generations,” says Mamo. “They will know that their parents and grandparents tried to denounce what happened there.”
–With reporting by Marta Bellingreri.
Alessio Mamo is an Italian photographer based in Sicily. Marta Bellingreri is a freelance journalist.
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