Christmas, a sign of coexistence in the Kurdistan Region

"The best Christmas celebrations happen here in Erbil."
Christians attending mass in the Kurdistan Region. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Christians attending mass in the Kurdistan Region. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

A small Christian community in the heart of a Muslim country freely celebrates Christmas each year in Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan Region.

December 25 is when the local Christian community celebrates Christmas, but the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced a public holiday from December 25 to January 2. This makes this year’s Christmas longer and, therefore, happier since families have more time to enjoy their reunion and celebrate.

Ankawa is a Christian District in Erbil where major Christmas celebrations take place and church bells ring. Ankawa’s population dramatically increased since 2014 when thousands of Christians left their homes in other Iraqi cities due to ISIS attacks and sought sanctuary there.

The KRG and the Kurdish society make sure that Christians celebrate Christmas with no worries whatsoever.

“My children and I have been living in Erbil since 2016, and we have had our best Christmas celebrations here because it is safe,” said Bashar Aprim, who settled in Ankawa after he left his home in Mosul in 2016 because of ISIS.

“The best Christmas celebrations happen here in Erbil,” Aprim added.

Church bells also ring in the other cities, towns, and villages of the Kurdistan Region.

Church in the Kurdistan Region. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Church in the Kurdistan Region. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

“Christmas celebration in Kurdistan shows the rich culture of diversity and coexistence among different religions and peoples,” said Fazil Hashok, a local from Ankawa. “I see Muslims in our celebrations, and we also attend their feasts. We live like brothers, and we have no problems at all.”

The security situation in the Kurdistan Region ensures that all kinds of celebrations go smoothly.

“The most important thing is we feel safe,” Aprim said. “Not only during Christmas, but at all times because the government provides us with very good security, and we feel good about it.”

Amir Othman, Manager of Religious Coexistence Department at the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Ministry of Endowment, previously told Kurdistan 24 that only 250,000-300,000 Christians are left in Iraq. The vast majority of these Christians live in the Kurdistan Region.

“The number of Christians in Iraq before 2003 was estimated to be 1.5 million; while after 2003, especially after ISIS invaded Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, a large number of them left Iraq, with 90 percent of those remaining moving to the Kurdistan Region, seeking a safe haven,” Othman said.

Religious and minority rights in Kurdistan Region are very well protected, a fact the KRG and the people of that region take pride in.

During his visit to Iraq last March, the first papal visit to the country, Pope Francis visited Kurdistan Region and hailed it for being a “home to those who fled Islamic State militants in Iraq.”

“It is because of the safety, peace, and good security that Pope Francis visited Kurdistan,” noted Hashok. “We felt proud about his visit.”

“We are even more proud that our Muslim brothers welcomed him too.”