Christian Leader Speaks Out Following Duhok Attacks

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image Amir Goka, head of the National Council of Chaldean and Assyrian Christians bloc in the Kurdistan Regional Parliament. Photo Rudaw/

ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan–In an interview with Rudaw, Amir Goka, head of the National Council of Chaldean and Assyrian Christians bloc in the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, said the recent destruction of on liquor stores, massage parlors and hotels—mainly run by the Christian community— in Duhok frightened the province’s Christian community and claimed the attackswere planned.

Rudaw: During the riots in Zakho (Duhok province), were you concerned about the liquor, massage and hotel businesses or that you there might be a conspiracy against the Christian community?

Amir Goka: We, the residents of Zakho — Muslims and Christians alike — are still trying to find out what the real motives were behind the riots. We still don’t know. We never anticipated such attacks against Christians in Zakho. We never expected that someday people would come and set our property on fire in our own neighborhood. We won’t accept being associated with liquor stores and looked down upon. As Christians, we’re associated with a great culture and civilization. Besides Christians, thousands of Muslims consume alcohol and there are even Christians that have never tasted alcohol in their entire lives. What happened in Zakho city wasn’t spontaneous, but rather planned. We express our gratitude to the Muslims around our neighborhood who came with their own weapons to protect our churches and people.

“We won’t accept being associated with liquor stores and looked down upon,”

Rudaw: What is the Christian population in Kurdistan?

Amir Goka: We don’t know for sure because there hasn’t been an accurate census in Iraq recently. According to the 1980s census, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq but the current number might not even be 500,000. Approximately 300,000 Christians currently live in the Kurdistan Region. Four thousand Christian families live in Zakho city now. Around 1,300 Christian families, who left Baghdad and Nineveh, currently live in Kurdistan.

Rudaw: Some people believe the Christians were targeted because they receive special attention from the Kurdish government. Is this true?

Amir Goka: I don’t think so. Just a few years ago, a number of Christian villages were renovated but Muslim villages were renovated as well. The number of Christian employees in Kurdistan is less than 1 percent. Christians are being neglected. There are some political parties that want to benefit from attacking Christians. We believe the incidents in Zakho were planned. I believe any attack on the Christian community can really hurt the Kurdistan Region’s reputation. If the issues of Kurdistan can be resolved without us being here, we will leave. Christians and Muslims have been neighbors in the region for centuries. We’ve never experienced any attacks by Muslims because of drinking alcohol, so I can say the real motive behind the incidents is not just about the liquor stores.

Rudaw: Police and Peshmarga forces are deployed in your neighborhoods. Is the situation that serious to require these forces to protect your lives?

Amir Goka: Christians are in danger. If it wasn’t for these forces protecting us, we would have been attacked by people who were ready to do so.

Rudaw: Have you been contacted by Europe and the Vatican regarding the current conditions of Christians in Kurdistan?

Amir Goka: Yes, we are always in contact. Vatican officials were concerned about the incidents and they were surprised that the situation of the Christians in Kurdistan isn’t stable. If it wasn’t for (Kurdistan Region) President Barzani’s immediate visit to the region, hundreds of families may have fled to Europe and other neighboring countries. We know President Barzani was deeply hurt by the incidents. I want to state that no one will attain his goals by being against Christians.

Rudaw: Whom do you think is responsible for this situation?

Amir Goka: The mullahs can play an effective role by preaching and motivating Muslims to live in peace and harmony with non-Muslims. The Ministry of Education can also play a crucial role in curbing violence among people. Most of the rioters in Zakho were students. The Ministry of Education must carry out its duty, which is to educate students. Let’s not just blame the mullahs. We know what happened to Christians recently is not what Islam teaches.