A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME: THE ORIGIN OF ‘STEP-IN’
Originally, the name ‘STEP-IN’ was coined as an abbreviation of the “Saint Elizabeth University’s Project for Iraq in Need”, a Slovak medical outreach programme sent to Iraq to provide aid to those displaced by the 2014 ISIS expansion. In 2017, when STEP-IN became an independent organisation our founders chose to keep the shortened version of the project name. This is both because ‘STEP-IN’ had become a known organisation in Iraqi Kurdistan and we wished to be continuously recognised by the people we worked for and alongside, and because ‘STEP-IN’ felt like an accurate summary of our projects and values.
To step in when discrimination and conflict affects people’s access to healthcare. To step in when those in need are unable to obtain or afford essential medicines or surgeries, and to step in when politics, sectarian division, and histories beyond any individual’s control infringe upon their rights and well-being.
On closer analysis of our logo you can see that, in place of an ’N’, we have a symbol.
This symbol is derived from the letter ‘noon’ (ن), the arabic alphabet’s equivalent of ’N’. The letter has been subtly adapted into the shape of an open hand, holding the country of Iraq. The open palm is a universal symbol of honesty and protection, it is also the gesture behind something freely given. In this case the symbol represents our unrequited support to all the persecuted people of Iraq.
The letter also has a deeper meaning. STEP-IN first came to Iraq to provide quality healthcare to the displaced victims of the 2014 ISIS expansion. Our first clinic, the Clinic of blessed Zdenka Schelingová, was set up in Ozal City on the outskirts of Erbil. Here we provided primary healthcare to thousands of displaced people but initially the IDPs fleeing to Ozal City were displaced Christians from the Nineveh region and it’s capital city Mosul.
Mosul was officially converted to Christianity by the Assyrians in the first and second century. By the beginning of the 20th century it had become one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse cities in Iraq and had come to represent the mingling of ethnic and religious cultures in a country where they were so often divided. It’s name, ‘Mawsil’, meaning ‘linking point’, marked Mosul’s central position in the north of Iraq and location on the Tigris river. It was a place of trade and travel and home to Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmens, Kurds, Yezidis, Shabakis and more. Although the majority of Mosul’s population followed Sunni Islam there were also large numbers of people following Salafism and Christianity. As well as minorities in Shia Islam, Sufism, Yazidism, and Shabakism. At the time of the ISIS expansion Mosul was home to 70,000 christians and was known affectionately by the christian population in Iraq as ‘the city of churches’.
When the Islamic State overran Mosul in July 2014, the city’s diversity and rich cultural heritage was destroyed. Graveyards were desecrated, idols pulled down, churches, synagogues, and temples raised to the ground. All the ethnic and religious groups distributed around the city fled in fear of the murderous ethnocentrism of ISIS.
Those who remained were given an ultimatum. To convert to Islam, to remain persecuted and pay jizya (an “infidel tax”) to the Islamic State, or to leave and pay for their exodus with worldly possessions, their home, or their remaining family members. In all three cases non-Muslim persons would also face an increasing probability of torture or death.
The properties of christians throughout the city were marked with the arabic letter ’N’, a symbol used to identify the “Nasrani” or Nazarene, derogatory Arabic terms for christians. The letter marked them as targets and labelled their homes as the property of ISIS. In the words of the Centre for American Progress, Christians throughout the Middle-East “have been subject to vicious murders at the hands of terrorist groups, forced out of their ancestral lands by civil wars, suffered societal intolerance fomented by Islamist groups, and subjected to institutional discrimination found in the legal codes and official practices of their own countries”.
When STEP-IN first opened the clinic in Erbil, the majority of our patients were Christians from Nineveh and Mosul. Although the letter ’N’ had been used by ISIS to label, segregate, and terrify the christian community, the international community had also adopted this symbol to show solidarity with those persecuted. In this light, STEP-IN decided to embrace the symbol and incorporate it into it’s name and logo. A symbol of persecution reshaped into a symbol of solidarity, an evolution paralleled with STEP-IN’s desire to provide quality healthcare to all, regardless of all ethnicity, religion, and nationality.