Patriarch of Antioch and the East Ignatius Aphrem II (left) meets with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in Erbil on January 25, 2019. Photo: Safeen Dizayee
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) stressed on Friday that Erbil will continue to work to protect the culture of Christians and he hopes they won’t emigrate.
…”the Prime Minister thanked them for their visit and stressed that the culture of co-existence stems from a belief and that they will continue protecting that culture,” read a statement from PM Nechirvan Barzani’s office.
The comments were released after he met Syriac Orthodox Christian leaders including Ignatious Aphrem II who is the patriarch of Antioch and All the East.
Barzani “also hoped that the Christians who have taken shelter in the Kurdistan Region won’t migrate abroad, hoping they remain in their country.”
His diocese includes churches in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Greece, Lebanon and Egypt. He is a native of the northern Syrian city of Qamishli.
Barzani expressed “the readiness of the Kurdistan Regional Government in the further development of Syriac education in the Kurdistan Region.”
The delegation expressed “delight” towards the Kurdistan Region for protecting Christians, according to the KRG statement.
“[It] thanked the people of Kurdistan, Kurdistan Regional Government and the Peshmerga in protecting, sheltering and aiding the Christians in their difficult times,” read the statement.
Most Christians in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region either belong to the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches. Few are Protestant or other denominations.
The delegation “pointed out to the history of Christians in the region as they have lived in peace with all other components, and they praised the co-existence of the components of the Kurdistan Region,” added the statement.
While Kurdistan is predominately Sunni Muslim, Christians are spread throughout greater Kurdistan in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia.
The KRG has sought to placate the dwindling minority. Barzani himself has visited Pope Francis and Christians and Kurds largely live together peacefully.
“Discussing the circumstances of the region in terms of stability, economy and the future, and exchanging memories were another part of the meeting,” added the statement.
Estimates vary, but in the 1987 Iraqi census 1.5 million Christians were counted. Around half a million Christians were estimated to live in the country prior to the ISIS conflict.
Christian community leaders have told Rudaw English that they estimate around 200,000-250,000 Christians remain split between the Kurdistan Region and elsewhere in Iraq. Most of the decrease is attributed to emigration abroad.