ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, Louis Raphael Sako, called for the Federal Government of Iraq to put an end to the practice of including people’s religion on their national identity cards, and urged for greater separation of power and politics to help end discrimination in the country.
Sako stated there exist a strong will and attitude toward a more moderate Islam in Iraq but needs to be encouraged.
Sako’s speech was delivered at a conference on citizenship and justice organized by the French Senate in Paris on Thursday.
He highlighted the suffering of Christians as well as non-Muslim religious groups in Iraq over the past decade which has pushed many to leave the country.
Christians in Iraq have been subjected to violence since the fall of the former dictatorship in 2003. Following the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in 2014 in northern Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Christians were driven out of their homes and moved to the Kurdistan Region, while other emigrated to Europe and elsewhere.
In December last year, Iraq declared victory over the IS after three years of fierce fighting that considerably damaged cities, including Christian-populated areas.
Sako stated that nowadays, a new state of mind prevails among Iraqis, but divisions remain deeply ingrained.
“Nine months after the end of the battle of Mosul and the defeat of Da’esh in Iraq, our country is plagued by a paradox,” the Chaldean Patriarch said, using the pejorative Arabic acronym for IS.
“There is a great aspiration among Iraqis to no longer live out of step with modernity and finally turn the page on war and division. Most people want to move on from sectarianism because it is at odds with the notions of citizenship and human rights.”
Nineveh has been among the most densely populated parts of Iraq. Waves of attacks on Christians since 2003 have reduced its population, especially among the Assyrian and Chaldean communities.
Nineveh province, including Mosul city, remains one of the oldest Christians homeland, namely in the East, with roots dating back to the earliest centuries.
“Iraqi society still seems to be marked by deep divisions of tribal, ethnic, religious or cultural origin,” Sako added.
He explained that it is necessary to adapt to reality as it is and to take into consideration the diversity and pluralism that characterize Iraq’s society.
According to the bishop, unified citizenship is the only way to overcome divisions.
“Citizenship is the only solution for the future of Iraq. Citizenship must be for everyone; all must be integrated. It is under its tent that everyone will be protected, regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliation,” Sako continued.
“The notion of citizenship helps put an end to discrimination and exclusion, as is the case in the democratic West. Citizenship means that there is no longer a religious or ethnic majority or even the notion of minority groups. Citizenship allows everyone to be protected because everyone is subject to the same laws.”
He called on separating religion from politics, stating that it would allow religion to once again focus on its true mission.
Christians, Ezidi, and Sabean have suffered greatly from sectarianism and Islamic extremism in Iraq, according to Sako, but added that they are an important part of the country’s history.
“Yet, in today’s textbooks, there are no mentions of our history and our religion and all that we have given to our Muslim brothers and offered to our country.”
The Kurdistan Region has been a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Christians. Following the emergence of IS, a large number of Christians settled in the region while other traveled abroad.
Editing by Nadia Riva