The Castle of Tal’Afar — Lost Symbol of Hope and Redemption

Every so often, I think back to my time to the castle in the Iraqi City of Tal’Afar. Tal’Afar is a small city that strides along the route between the city of Mosul to the East and the Syrian Border to the West. It is a unique place for someone growing up reading history and geography ranging from Ancient Greece and Rome to the Great Wall of China and daydreaming of designing my own ancient city. According to some, Tal’Afar is the location of an Assyrian city mentioned in the Bible as Telassar from the time of Isaiah. Eventually, it would become an Ottoman era city with a castle built atop a hill in the middle of the city. Apparently, Saddam Hussein had funded restoration projects of the castle, but eventually the projects were abandoned. When I arrived in Iraq in 2006, the castle was partially intact with elements of its outer wall in need of repair; however, a beautiful section remained intact which the picture fails to capture its full beauty. When I walked around the castle, I thought to myself what an opportunity it would be to rebuild it. When I thought back to the history of the city and the area, I could imagine the likes of Alexander the Great riding past the city, Roman Legions marching by, and the armies of Genghis Khan sweeping across the landscape. I thought to myself, “would it be possible to rebuild the castle and make it a landmark for the people?” Motivated and undeterred by the continued conflict to oust the remaining elements of Al Qaeda, I worked with the mayor, tribal sheikhs, and dedicated Iraqi Engineers to plan for the massive reconstruction project. The idea was to model the castle of Tal’Afar with the Castle of Prague, Czech Republic as the center piece of the city government. The people were excited because they understood that rebuilding the castle would give the city a sense of hope and redemption for their future. Proposals were made for the project and I even received the verbal approval of the American Corps Commander for its funding. Full funding could never be secured, but some projects were completed such as a new Mayor’s building, Police Headquarters Building, Business Center, Education Building, and some repairs to the walls. Unfortunately, my time ran short and my dream of rebuilding the castle came to an end. Sadly, in the years that followed, much of what was built for the castle was destroyed by the diabolical death cult known as the Islamic State to include major sections of the castle. The Islamic State, along with its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq, were supported by the majority Sunnis in the city who persecuted the minority Shia population. I sincerely doubt the castle, let alone the city, will ever return to its former self. Tal’Afar was recaptured by the Iraqi Government in 2017. Too much hatred and suspicion hang over the city, but for me there will always be a place in my heart for the castle and what it could it have been — a symbol of hope and redemption atop a hill. I look back at my time there and simply ask “what if?” If I had achieved my dream of rebuilding the castle, I would have left knowing I did some good for the people and achieved a childhood dream of building my own castle but it will remain just that, a dream of rebuilding a lost symbol of hope and redemption.

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Military Officer, World Traveler, Novice Storyteller

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