Why some Christians in northern Iraq are choosing to stand and fight

The outsiders he refers to are the peshmerga, the armed forces of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, who are leading the fight against IS in the region. But they retreated from many Christian villages without a fight last summer, declining to protect them from the IS advance.

Christians have taken up arms because they want to protect their own land, and many no longer trust the Kurds to do it for them. Even as thousands of Christians are fleeing Iraq, convinced they can no longer find safety, or a future, in their homeland, these men are hoping to preserve a future for them, even if they’re not sure they’ll succeed.

“After 15 years, you’ll come back here and you won’t find any Christians,” says Marcus, a young Dwekh Nawsha fighter who gave only his first name.

Then why is he fighting when others are fleeing? “Because our children, one day they will ask us: ‘Why did you give up? Why didn’t you fight?’ ” he says. “So we will tell them: ‘We fought.’ ”