Kurdistan: Sole Safe Haven For Christians In Iraq

Many Christians, who have been the most vulnerable religious minority targeted by Islamic militants in Iraq since 2003, say that they have found a safe and well-protected haven here in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

As recent as last week, one of the main Christian churches in Iraq was targeted when some Islamic Arab extremists broke into the church and held dozens of prayers hostage and killed more than 50 of them.

A day after that bloody incident, the Christians as well as Muslim Kurds here in Erbil took to the streets condemning the consecutive attacks on a peaceful tiny religious minority in the Arab-dominated part of Iraq.

But the story of Christians is different here in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq.

One Christian leader, Fahmi Mati Solaqa, who is the mayor of Ankawa, a neighborhood where the Christians have a de-facto autonomous rule in Erbil, says Christians enjoy a “unique life in Kurdistan,” that they do not in the rest of the Middle East.

“There is a plan to downsize Christians in the Middle East,” said Solaqa. “In Lebanon, the Christians have been reduced from %60 to %40. This rate is even more in Iraq.”

“But in Kurdistan, by contrast to the entire Middle East, the Christians have increased,” added Solaqa.

Since the overthrow of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, as many as 3,000 Christians have fled the south and center of Iraq to Ankawa, a relatively small town which has four churches. Many other Christians have fled the restive province of Nineveh to the countryside of Duhok.

Furthermore, in the last six months, 54 churches more have been built in Kurdistan.

Solaqa says that all of the internally displaced Christians are funded by the Kurdish government on a monthly basis according to the size of each family

“I can say the government of Kurdistan have provided housing and accommodation for 90 percent of inhabitants of Ankawa,” said Solaqa.

Al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the Baghdad attack on Christians, announced that they would intensify their attacks on Christians in Iraq for what they said the detainment of two Christian women by a church in Egypt after converting to Islam.

“That threat really has terrorized Christians. More Christians are intending to come to live here in Ankawa,” added Solaqa.

“The Christians cannot live in Syria, Jordan and other Arab countries either.”

Solaqa said the threat even planted fear among Christians in the relatively stable region of Kurdistan as they have since provided more guards to their churches in Ankawa and elsewhere in the region.

Two months ago, the pope of Vatican sent a letter to Massoud Barzani, president of Kurdistan, appreciating the accommodating role he had played regarding Christians.

Also was last week when Barzani met with Italian Senator Sergio De Krikurio, head of the NATO affairs committee, who informed Barzani of being appointed by NATO for this year’s peace prize.

De Krikurio also had regards from the pope of Vatican for the president due to his welcoming role for the homeless Christians of Iraq.

Before coming to Kurdistan, the Christians from the Arab Iraq had a negative image about Kurds due to the influence of the kind of Arab nationalism exists there, said Solaqa.

Some had even accused Kurds of intimidating Christians in the disputed region of Nineveh.

“They had never expected to be welcomed in that civilized and humanitarian way by the Kurds,” added Solaqa.

 

Ankawa, Iraqi Kurdistan

Rudaw

November 9, 2010

 

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