ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (K24) – In an interview with K24, the Secretary-General of the Assyrian Bet al-Nahrain Democratic Party, Romeo Hakkari on Tuesday stated that Christians are with an independent Kurdistan Region that protects the right of all ethnic and religious groups in the Region, a democratic Kurdistan that defends minorities before Kurds.
On Tuesday, Hakkari mentioned that the emigration of Iraqi Christians is dangerous for both Iraq as well as the Kurdistan Region, and particularly for the future rights of Christians and future generations of Christians in the country.
He explained that more attention must be given to issues pertaining to coexistence and policies need to be implemented to improve Christian's conditions in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. After 2003, bad mistreatment against Christians and other minorities increased. Christians throughout Iraq began to migrate to the Kurdistan Region, or abroad. "We [Christians] in particular, and the people of the Kurdistan Region in general, could comfort the displaced Christians from Iraq to a large extent," Hakkari said.
He noted that post-Islamic State (IS), Christians who have been displaced will return to their own areas, in Nineveh Province in northern Iraq. "Christians have their own official Peshmerga military unit now, which is under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Ministry of Peshmerga. The unit will participate in the future liberation of Nineveh Province from IS insurgents," he added.
Hakkari mentioned that Chaldeans and Assyrians in the Kurdistan Region want to play a significant role in the fight against IS, and believes this participation will help deliver three main messages.
"The first message is that it is the first time that we [Christians] will participate in defending the Region militarily. Second, it indicates that Christians support living in harmony and coexistence in the Kurdistan Region. Third, it motivates Christians to stay here in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, not to emigrate abroad."
Hakkari also acknowledged the vital role of the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani in promoting harmony and coexistence in the Kurdistan Region. Importantly, he stated that Christians have always supported Kurdish independence, and Christians believe that they can attain more rights if and when the Kurdistan Region becomes an independent state, "When our Kurdish brothers achieve more rights [independence], the rights of other ethnic and religious groups will also increase.“
Responding to the question whether Christians in the Kurdistan Region can lobby for further lobby in support of independence, especially with regards to their ties with the Vatican, Hakkari responded, "I think it is the duty of all the people in the Kurdistan Region, including Kurds, Yezidi, Turkmen, Christians, and all other groups to play a role in lobbying the international community to support Kurdish independence. We as Christians that are part of the Kurdistan Region, have played a valuable role in lobbying support for the Kurdistan Region in Europe and the United States."
He continued, "Whenever our delegates visited abroad, we explained that the international community should support the Kurdistan Region because Kurdistan has become a center and model for coexistence between different ethnic and religious groups."
"...if they support Christians in the Kurdistan Region, they should support all other peoples in the Region because Christians live in harmony among them. The future of all peoples depend on each other, and we have to defend this Region together," Hakkari said
He concluded, "We are with an independent Kurdistan Region that protects the right of all ethnic and religious groups in the Region, a democratic Kurdistan that defends minorities before Kurds."
Christians are spread throughout the Kurdistan Region, mostly live in Ankawa area located in Erbil province. Assyrians and Chaldean Christians have five reserved seats in the Kurdistan Region Parliament. Christians are able to practice their religious beliefs without hindrance. During an official Christmas Day celebration broadcast on TV, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani stated, "Christians are not treated as minority in the region, and they are an indigenous people of the Kurdistan Region."
The Bet al-Nahrain Democratic Party is an Assyrian political party in Iraq led by Hakkari. The party has little influence as it is a small party. After 2003, Christians in general divided into some small parties in the Kurdistan Region in particular and Iraq in general.
(Nouri Bekhali contributed in this report as the interviewer)