KRG always ready to provide support to Christians: KRG Coordinator

“Understanding the suffering of Christians in other parts of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government has always expressed its readiness to provide further support and assistance.”
KRG Coordinator Dr. Dindar Zebari spoke at an international event on ISIS crimes against Christians, Aug. 31. 2023 (Photo: Dindar Zebari/Twitter)
KRG Coordinator Dr. Dindar Zebari spoke at an international event on ISIS crimes against Christians, Aug. 31. 2023 (Photo: Dindar Zebari/Twitter)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – During the "In Pursuit of Justice: Investigating ISIL's Crimes against Iraq's Christians" event, Dr. Dindar Zebari, the KRG Coordinator for International Advocacy, emphasized that the majority of Iraq's Christian population has sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region.

He delivered his remarks at an international event that convened Iraqi Christian leaders from various denominations to share their invaluable insights. Among the attendees was Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the Chaldean patriarch, along with several Western diplomats.

Safeen Dizayee, Head of the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) Department of Foreign Relations, during the event also stated "that Christians are the indigenous people of this land and must continue their lives with dignity and security."

"Migration should not be seen as the solution. It’s important to create an environment of coexistence in peace and harmony," he posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

KRG Dindar Zebari Coordinator during the event said that Christians in the Nineveh Plains and other parts of were targeted following the fall of the Baath regime in 2003.

“In the years 2003, 2006, and 2009, they suffered diverse phases of displacement from their residences due to acts of terrorism involving the destruction of churches and residences, compelling their relocation to a more stable region,” he underlined.

“This migration of Christians peaked after the attacks of ISIL (ISIS) in 2014, resulting in hundreds of thousands of Christians and other communities being displaced and seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region.” 

Moreover, he said that after the fall of the former regime in Baghdad in 2003, more than 1.5 million Christians lived in Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq, “but that changed dramatically as soon as the terrorist and extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Militants, and armed criminal militias in Baghdad and south of Iraq targeted Christians.”

Read More: Vast majority of Iraq’s remaining Christians live in Kurdistan Region: KRG Official

Some estimates suggest that there are only 250,000 to 300,000 Christians left in Iraq.

During the summer of 2014, the Yezidi and Christian communities of Nineveh and Shingal (Sinjar), came under siege when ISIS advanced into their province, the Coordinator said.

“Under the death threat, enslavement, and forced conversion, hundreds of thousands abandoned their homes. Thousands of women and girls were abducted and enslaved. Violence consumed the area, from the large city of Mosul to the small Yezidi villages surrounding Shingal, where ISIL made clear its genocidal intentions,” Zebari added. 

Zebari said that ISIS imposed forced displacement, property theft and destruction of holy sites on Iraq's ancient Christian community. Moreover, the UN estimates that around 200,000 Christians fled their towns in Nineveh when ISIS attacked in June 2014.

“Nearly 50,000 of these Christians were reportedly refugees from Mosul, where ISIL seized their residences. Many others were from Qaraqosh, a town that harbored a fourth of Iraq’s Christian community prior to ISIL offenses. Today, the KRG reports that nearly most of Iraq's Christians have taken refuge in the Kurdistan Region.”

According to the data, more than 11,584 Christian families, consisting of 32,814 people were displaced.

KRG services

“The KRG extended crucial services, including the provision of shelter in camps. As a result of the ISIL attacks, 250 Christians, including 82 women and 168 men, went missing. In the Nineveh plain, 62 Christians, among them 18 women and 44 men, were also reported missing.”

He also said that the KRG has allocated 11 billion dinars for the construction of three churches in Ainkawa district of Erbil for the believers of Armenian, Orthodox and Chaldean religions.

“Understanding the suffering of Christians in other parts of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government has always expressed its readiness to provide further support and assistance, and supports the policy of voluntary return of the IDPs and will not resort to forcing them to return and evacuate camps it brings.”

Lack of security

Currently, approximately 2,000 Christian families in the Nineveh Plain remain within the Kurdistan Region, spread across the provinces of Erbil, Duhok, and Sulaimani. “They cannot return to their homeland due to the instability of the security situation and lack of reconstruction,” Zebari said.

“In order to protect the lives of refugees and IDPs, camp administrations have settled controlled entry and exit procedures, only refugees, government employees and humanitarian organizations have the right to enter the camps thereby enhancing the campus service, accessing pure water and sanitation facilities to the refugee camps.”

Furthermore, he emphasized that the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Region have made significant sacrifices in the battle against ISIS, with a toll of 1810 individuals lost and over 10369 wounded among their ranks.

Sinjar agreement

“So far, tens of thousands of citizens of all communities in the Nineveh Plain cannot return to their original places due to the destruction, inadequate essential services, and precarious security conditions. This scenario arises from the failure to execute the provisions outlined in the Sinjar agreement,” he added.

He also said that there are examples of reported violence against Christians include abductions, illegal arrests, unlawful detention, prevention of return, physical intimidation, assault, rape, (sexual) harassment, religious discrimination, threats via social media, robbery and theft of land or property, especially in Ninewa plains.

“There are also reports that some government officials have attempted to facilitate demographic change by allocating land and housing to Shias and Sunnis in predominantly Christian areas in the Ninewa Plains.”

He also said ISIS has committed crimes against ethnic and religious communities “without discrimination, and the crimes have reached the level of international crimes and genocide, including the Christian community, especially in the Nineveh Plain.”

“We must renew our dedication to achieving justice, accountability, and compensation for the Christian community. We can work together to heal the wounds of the past and create a more justices future for all people and victims,” he concluded.