The people and government of the Kurdistan Region understand the suffering of the Christians and other minorities in Iraq and are committed to their protection and to peaceful coexistence, said Ms Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Region’s High Representative to the UK, speaking in the British Parliament on Tuesday.
Ms Abdul Rahman presented a brief report on the status of Christians in the Kurdistan Region to members of the British Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in a meeting that was open to MPs, peers and members of the public. Other speakers were Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani, formerly the Arab League’s Special Representative in Iraq, and Professor Brendan O’Leary from the University of Pennsylvania.
Ms Abdul Rahman outlined the many steps taken by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdish leadership since 1992 to protect and promote the rights of Christians and minorities in the Kurdistan Region. As early as 1992, when the Region held its first elections, a quota of seats was allocated to Christians in the Kurdistan Parliament. Today, six seats are reserved for Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians, while another five are allocated to Turkmen parties. Christians have prominent positions in the KRG, including the current Transport and Communications Minister.
“The KRG is committed to peaceful coexistence throughout Iraq and the protection of minorities, a policy that we implement in the Kurdistan Region and strive for across the country,” said Ms Abdul Rahman. “British parliamentarians who have visited Kurdistan have seen this for themselves and we welcome this opportunity to present the facts to those who haven’t yet to come to the Region.”
The KRG funds schools in the Syriac language, the only part of Iraq in which such schools are government-funded. The schools have been expanded to accept an increasing number of Chaldeans and Assyrians who have fled other parts of Iraq to the safety of Kurdistan. Since 2003, at least 20,000 Christian families have sought refuge in Kurdistan.
Outside the KRG-administered area, the Kurdish peshmerga forces have provided protection to Christians, Yezidis, Shabaks and other minorities vulnerable to attack from extremists and terrorists, and the KRG has provided humanitarian assistance.
Mr Lamani, who was in Iraq in 2006 to 2007, said that during his posting in Baghdad he was shocked at the terrible situation for the minority nationalities, which forced many of them to move to the Kurdistan Region or go abroad.
Professor O’Leary, who spoke in a personal capacity and is an expert on power-sharing and ethnic conflict, conducted in-depth interviews with 300 Christian individuals in 62 towns and villages in the Kurdistan Region and in the disputed territories, including the Nineveh plains, in spring 2009 and autumn 2008. He presented his interim findings, and recommended that Kurdistan’s constitution should incorporate the best international standards on religious and minority rights.
Ms Margaret Munn MP, chairman of the British Parliament’s Kurdistan Region group, said, “As a member of the Methodist Church, I was pleased to hear the findings of the two experts on Christians in the Kurdistan Region and the disputed territories, and to read the KRG’s report. The KRG is clearly working hard to protect the minorities, including Christians and I look forward to exploring these issues in person in the region. The All Party Parliamentary Group will also continue to follow this issue with interest.”