Christians continue to leave Iraq at a time when there is growing optimism of a bright future and an attempt at unity in the upcoming provincial councils.Â
Dhiaa Petros, head of the Chaldean National Council, said that Christians have limited goals in their national aim, which is mainly autonomy. “There are serious attempts to ask for Christians’ rights in Iraq, and there are serious steps being taken to arrange unified lists for participation in the provincial council elections in those districts where the Chaldeans and Assyrians live. The list might be called the National Ishtar List, and it will consist of six allies.
“We will work in order to add Christian autonomy in the constitution, and to make it acceptable to the many sides in Kurdistan Region and to officials in Baghdad,” said Petros, who stressed the necessity of including Christian autonomy in the Iraqi Constitution.
Th process needs people’s support, Petros told the Globe. “In order to achieve this goal, we will work on the people’s requests and especially on forming an alliance with those blocs that accept our goals; most certainly, we won’t ignore the aims of Yezidis, Shabak, Kurds, and Arabs who have lived in our districts for many centuries.”
The Chaldean National Council was founded in America in 2002 and was operative in Baghdad from 2003-06. It ceased operations because of sectarian violence, said Petros, and then resumed activities in Kurdistan Region in 2007.
“We hoped that the constitution would contain out rights; unfortunately it did not, and we are now working to add autonomy and make the constitution more secular. If such a process fails to be carried out, democracy won’t be achieved,” stated Petros.
He spoke about Christian suffering in the country. “Dozens of Christians are leaving Iraq; this phenomenon has been especially prominent since 2006. There is no encouragement for them to stay and the country is full of problems such as sectarian violence.
“One or two families now leave Iraq every day [especially in the district of Ninewa] because of sectarian violence, and they have also lost hope for achieving autonomy after the report of Staffan De Mistura, the UN special representative in Iraq,” said Ghazwan Alyas, director of the Chaldean Cultural Assembly, adding that the government has offered no solution.
Al-Qush (40 kilometers north of Mosul) is the district belonging to Telkif town, and is considered the center of the Chaldean Assembly in the area. The district is also considered a Christian historical site because of Deer Al Raban Hirmuzad, Deer Sida, and other places.
“We think achieving Christian autonomy in the district is the only solution, especially after the efforts that the blocs and other sides have put forth,” said Ghazwan.
He explained that they must still work to implement the process in a practical way even with the support of the Kurdish leadership and the attempts of Sarques Aghajan, a Christian and the KRG Minister of Finance.
“Most of the Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Syriacs agree with the project to establish Christian autonomy inside Kurdistan Region, and agree that they constitute 4% of the Iraqi population; they have an opinion on the constitution,” indicated Ghazwan, who manages the Cultural Assembly and also releases a monthly cultural magazine.
“A while ago, we carried out a survey in the district of Sahil Ninewa and especially the districts of Telkif and Al Hamdania; we concluded that 76% of Al-Hamdania agree with the project, 81% of Telkif and Al-Qush agree, if autonomy is within Kurdistan Region,” explained Ghazwan, who added that they presented the project to the American Embassy, Kurdistan Parliament, Iraqi Parliament, and Minister Aghajan.
“After the murder of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Raho last spring, thousands of Christians left the country at a time when they lived in secure places like Al-Qush, Telkif, Telseqif, and Qarqush,” said Ghazwan.
Nisan Bighazi, a member of the Assyrian Cultural Center in Duhok, said that sectarian violence against Christians remains the number one reason Christians are fleeing Iraq.
“Whether there is autonomy or not, which is our right, there is still existing sectarian violence targeting Christians, and different agendas account for that violence,” said Bighazi. “Churches and other Christian symbols are subjected to violence, but not Christian political offices or cultural centers.”
Bighazi added: “We hope we will be able to live in a brotherly way and have religious forgiveness among all the Iraqi people.”