ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (K24) – In a visit to the Assyrian Church of the East in Erbil today, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said Christians are an indigenous people in the Region and not considered just a minority.
Kurdistan Region Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, visited His Holiness Mar Gewargis Sliwa, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in Erbil today at St. John’s Church to congratulate His Holiness and the Christian community in marking the celebration of Christmas. St. John’s Church--one among many churches in the area--is in the Christian neighborhood of Ankawa, which is a well-known area known for its many churches, a large expatriate community, the US Consulate, and many popular restaurants and bars.
In his Christmas day speech at St. John’s Church, Prime Minister Barzani said, “We do not consider Christians as minorities, but rather they have deep roots in this region. Majority and minority—[for us] it is not a matter of numbers,” speaking about the fact that the Middle East is where the origins of the religion are for “thousands of years ago.”
"We extend our warmest congratulations to the Christian community all over the world in general, and in Iraq and Kurdistan in particular,” Barzani opened his speech at St. John’s Church broadcast on TV.
The Prime Minister continued, "The continued coexistence of different religious and ethnic components in Kurdistan is one of the most well-known features of Kurdistan. And the first thing I noticed when I entered this hall that made me happy is seeing the Christian clergy and Muslim clerics sitting together, celebrating and congratulating each other."
Barzani also noted that this acceptance and tolerance are natural in Kurdistan, and such tolerance, is unwavering.
"Christians and Kurds share all aspects of life through thick and thin. When terrorists attacked villages and territories in the region, they did not differentiate between Kurdish villages or Christian villages; all [of them] were assaulted. Churches along with mosques were destroyed," Prime Minister Barzani explained.
"In fact, Christians' suffering has increased in the last two years after ISIS terrorists attacked their villages, and for the critical economic conditions in the region lately we apologize for any failure to Christians who fled to Kurdistan," he said.
"We wish this year to be the year of Christians returning to their original land and the year of eliminating terrorism," Barzani concluded, noting that Kurdistan is a tolerant country and that all its people's desire to live in peace.
Barzani further remarked that what differentiates Kurdistan from most of the other countries in the Middle East is its religious and ethnic tolerance.
Christians in Kurdistan are mostly ethnic Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Armenians, and mostly live in Duhok, Erbil, Nineveh, and Kirkuk Provinces. There are also ethnic Kurdish Christians, mostly recent Protestant converts in the cities of Erbil and Suleimani.
Since the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq, the Christian population, which once numbered 1.5 million people, dwindled drastically to less than half a million amid harsh persecution and attacks by al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Although tens of thousands still live in various refugee camps throughout the Kurdistan Region, many others have chosen to emigrate abroad.