ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Leaders from the Syriac Orthodox Church visited Erbil and discussed the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups in the autonomous Kurdistan Region with senior Kurdish officials who called on members of the Christian community to remain in the region.
The delegation was made up of a number of bishops and headed by Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch and East, all of whom met with the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani on Friday.
In the meeting, Patriarch Aphrem II, who is also the Supreme Head of the Syrian Orthodox Church worldwide, thanked “the people and government of the Kurdistan Region and the [Kurdish] Peshmerga forces for their protection and assistance to Christians in difficult times,” read a statement issued by Barzani’s press office.
The religious leader highlighted the historical roots of the Christians in the region and praised the positive relations between different populations in the Kurdistan Region, the statement added.
Barzani was quoted as saying “the culture of coexistence in the Kurdistan Region stems from conviction, stressing the keenness to protect this culture and its continuation,” and also that he ”expressed the hope that the Christians who fled to the Kurdistan Region will not resort to emigration, and that they stay in their country.”
He added that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was prepared to further strengthen Syriac education in the Kurdistan Region.
On the following day, the delegation also met with Masoud Barzani, head of the leading Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the former President of the Kurdistan Region.
According to Barzani’s press office, he “highlighted the tragedies suffered by the Christians and the people of Kurdistan” over the past years. He went on to note that the Kurdistan Region is ”home for all,” and called for Christians not to emigrate from their country.
Barzani underlined the need to promote a culture of accepting different religious and ethnic groups in Iraq in the current post-Islamic State stage.
Both sides also discussed ongoing threats of terrorism and extremist groups as well as the political and security situation in Syria.
The Kurdistan Region has a total population of 5.9 million people, with some 100,000 of them having been born into the roughly 2,000-year-old religion.
The Christian community in Iraq has, for decades, suffered from prosecution for their faith. In 2014, when the Islamic State emerged in northern, western, and central Iraq, tens of thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes, with many seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region.
Editing by John J. Catherine