Iraq’s Kurds offer homes to refugee Christians

posted by Rob Kerby,
Iraq’s Kurdish minority has offered homes to refugee Christian families who have been driven out of southern Iraq and Baghdad by Islamist extremists.

Kurds inhabit a region historically known as Kurdistan, which was divided up between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War II. About 4 million of Iraq’s 34 million citizens are Kurdish.

Targeted by Saddam Hussein, who used chemical warfare to kill entire villages, Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed semi-autonomy since the first Gulf war in 1991. Now the predominant Kurdish political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is offering homes to Christian refugees, according to the British-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

A Kurdish spokesman called it a humanitarian gesture, denying suggestions the offer is designed to increase the area’s population and boost its electoral base.

Since the 2003 United States-led invasion, more than 200,000 Iraqi Christians have left Iraq after such incidents as the October 2010 attack on a packed church in central Baghdad — which killed more than 60 people.

Only about 200,000 Chaldean Christians remain in Iraq, according to Louis Sago, archbishop of the Chaldean Orthodox Church in Kirkuk.

He says 200 families have already moved to the Kirkuk area from Baghdad, joining 12,000 Christians already living in the area.

Refugees are being offered plots of land as well as $10,000 per family to settle in the village of Se Ganian, which was destroyed in Saddam”s campaign against the Kurds.

Discounting any humanitarianism, Mohammad Ameen, a political analyst and a professor at Kirkuk University called the initiative “a political move to get more votes.”

The oil-rich, multi-ethnic Kirkuk area is debating whether to vote to become part of the Kurdistan political area within Iraq. The Kurds are predominantly Muslim.

Kurdish spokesman Ghafoor Salih Sameen said his party would do all that was required to safeguard Iraq’s Christians and halt their exodus. “This is not the first time the [Kurdish party] has supported the Christians, considering them a part of our history,” he said. “We are working hard to serve Kirkuk residents in general and the Christians in particular as they are an important part of the identity of Kirkuk. We will do our best to stop their exodus by providing all necessary services.”

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