Christians in Kurdistan celebrate Christmas, New Year against all odds

church21.jpgArbil – Voices of Iraq
Arbil, Dec 25, (VOI) – In the relatively calm and secure cities of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, particularly Arbil and Duhuk, many Christians are celebrating Christmas and the New Year these days despite the high living costs and growing poverty.

Florence, a housewife in her mid-40s who left her home in Baghdad to flee violence and ethnic strife, said, “Christmas is beautiful here. We celebrate things which we never celebrated in Baghdad because of the security conditions there. Now we can have a Christmas tree, decorate our house with Christmas lights and make cookies.”
“But you can’t have your cake and eat it,” said the woman. “Living costs are extremely high here and we miss our relatives and neighbors with whom we would celebrate.”
“We had no option but to leave our house in al-Saidiya after armed men attacked and robbed my husband and son while they were leaving a foreign company they were working for…,” Florence said recounting her memories.
Meanwhile, Ammar Walid, Florence’s 20-year-old son told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI), “We don’t feel at home here despite the fact that we live in a predominantly Christian area. In Saidiya, we had Muslim neighbors with whom we shared festivals and celebrations. We never felt alienated or out of place.” “They call us displaced persons here…How could a person be called as such at home?” Walid wondered.
Ankawa district, a mainly Christian area that lies 5 km north of Arbil, the capital city of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, was the destination of many Baghdadis who left their homes in search of a more peaceful place. Many Christian parties and organizations, including the Assyrian Democratic Movement, Hizb Bayn al-Nahreen (Between the Two Rivers Party), Chaldean Union, the National Chaldean Council, the Assyrian National Party and the Chaldean Cultural Society, have headquarters there.
Ninos William, a young man who moved to Ankawa in search of a job, said that despite the freedom of movement people enjoy and the stabilized security conditions in the district, the financial situation is dire and prices are unaffordable.
Despite being a graduate from a technological institute, William could not find a better job than a municipality worker in Arbil.
Rami Amanoil, 22, said that he could not afford a Christmas tree, which he said is sold for 100,000-150,000 Iraqi dinars (82-123 U.S. dollars).
Amanoil, who works as a local radio announcer, said that the growing number of internally displaced persons in the region has increased the costs of living and hindered the Kurdistan Regional Government’s efforts to provide adequate assistance for them.
According to official figures, there were an estimated 1.2 million Christians in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Half of this number have left the country while others have been internally displaced by the conflict.