Controversial conference on future of Iraq’s Christians begins in Brussels

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By Rudaw
Marijana Petir [L], a Croatian member of the European Parliament co-hosted an event in Brussels on the future of the the Iraqi Christians on June 28, 2017. Photo: Petir’s Twitter account
BRUSSELS, Belgium – In recognizing ISIS atrocities against Iraq’s minorities as genocide, states are obliged to act, a Dutch politician told Iraq’s Christians at a conference in Brussels in Wednesday that has been boycotted by several Christian organizations.

Recognition of the genocide “is important because if countries recognize that what is going on under Daesh is genocide, they are obliged to act,” said Pieter Omtzigt, member of the Council of Europe from Netherlands.

“And obliged to act means stopping, means at least stopping fighters. Because what’s happening now, for the first time since the 1940s, citizens of the 28 EU countries are committing a genocide. We all know it.”

The conference, A Future for Christians in Iraq, being held Wednesday through Friday, was put on by Lars Adaktusson, Swedish member of the European Parliament.

“The purpose of this conference is the return of the people to the Nineveh Plain, and I call upon all Chaldeans/Syriacs/Assyrians to come together to ensure that their people can return home,” Adaktusson said in a statement published in the lead up to the conference, which he said would welcome 60 participants, including officials from Baghdad and Erbil, and church representatives from Europe and the US.

Not all Christian groups have welcomed his efforts, however.

The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church stated it would not attend the conference because the future of Christians in Iraq is linked to all Iraqis and so is an issue that must be discussed “within the Iraqi house.”

If the West really wants to help, “it will support Iraq in its fight against terrorism and efforts to achieve national reconciliation, establish security and stability, and contribute to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of liberated towns to speed up the return of displaced persons to their homes,” the statement read.

The Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) has boycotted the conference.

Kaldo Oghanna, ADM spokesperson, said in a public statement that the conference was promoting a partisan and sectarian agenda and did not reflect ADM’s desire for a unified representation of Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians as had been agreed in a meeting of Christian political parties in March.

He also noted the omission from the agenda of a discussion of a January 2014 Iraqi cabinet decision regarding the formation of a new province in the Nineveh Plain that would be separate from the disputes between Erbil and Baghdad.

The policy document on the conference’s agenda “requires a referendum whereby our people will decide whether to become part of Kurdistan or another jurisdiction or a province or some form of self-governance.”

Oghanna described this as a “forceful effort” that contradicts his party’s policies, the primary of which is “completing the formation of a new Nineveh Plains province.”