KRG: Thousands of displaced Christians celebrate Christmas in Kurdistan
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Sunday congratulated Christians celebrating Christmas, adding they hoped displaced Christians in the Kurdistan Region return safely to their liberated areas.
In a statement released on its website, the KRG extended its congratulations to the Christians in Kurdistan, Iraq, and abroad who are celebrating the religious holiday.
“As Christmas returns, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of our Christian brothers and sisters alongside other religious and ethnic components are displaced from their areas,” the KRG statement said.
The Christians, who were the target of the Islamic State’s (IS) violence, were forced to flee their areas in different parts of Iraq and seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region.
The KRG warned that despite the military defeat of IS, Christians have not yet been guaranteed a safe return to their areas, especially following the attack and takeover of Kirkuk Province and other disputed territories by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias.
“Christians are a historical component of Kurdistan’s diverse and wealthy community,” the KRG statement noted.
“Thousands of years ago, Christians, alongside other ethnicities and religious components, helped establish and defend Kurdistan and are now living in coexistence, peace, and stability,” the statement added.
The KRG said they hoped the displaced Christians and all of Kurdistan’s other components could return to their homes and celebrate their festivities in better living conditions.
Lara Youssef, the Mayor of the Christian town of al-Qosh, told Kurdistan 24 that following the liberation of Christian-populated areas from IS, she hoped all Christians could celebrate Christmas at home, adding that “Christians’ suffering has not been alleviated as they still cannot return to their areas.”
“We hope Christians live in peace and safety, away from killing and displacement next Christmas,” Youssef said.
The KRG declared Sunday and Monday a holiday for all citizens in the Region, as it has done every year, while the Iraqi government announced the holiday break would only be for Christians.
Christians who live in Kurdistan consist of ethnic Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Armenians. Most live in the provinces of Dohuk, Erbil, Nineveh, and Kirkuk.
There are also ethnic Kurdish Christians, mainly recent Protestant converts, in the cities of Erbil and Sulaimani.
Since the fall of the former Iraqi dictatorship in 2003, the Christian population, which once numbered 1.5 million people, decreased 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.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany