Patriarchs of the Orient Urge International Protection for Christians from Erbil, Say Idea of Own Province ‘Now Acceptable’

by Naharnet Newsdesk
The patriarchs of the Orient on Wednesday called for international protection for Christians, considering that the idea of establishing a province for this religious minority “has become acceptable.”

“What we care about is safeguarding the presence of our (Christian) brothers and providing protection for them,” Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi said after a visit to the Iraqi Kurdish region of Erbil.

“And today they, as religious and ethnic groups, need international protection,” he noted. “We need the international community to protect Christians (to allow them) to live a normal life.”

Al-Rahi had traveled to Kurdistan earlier in the day at the head of a delegation of patriarchs, in a show of support to the persecuted Christians.

The Maronite Patriarch was asked about comments he had made concerning dialogue with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

He clarified his statement: “I told ISIL you terminated Islam and civilization and humanity.”

“Then in which logic can we address you?” Al-Rahi asked.

Addressing the persecuted Christians, he said: “Your pain is our pain… and we tell you not to thing about migration and you are not here at a station. You have been here for 2,000 years.”

He noted receiving reassurances from President of the Kurdistan province Massoud Barazani.

“We thank them (Kurds) for opening the door in front of our people,” the patriarch said.

Barazani told the religious delegation that “he is holding onto the presence of Christians in Kurdistan.”

“We will live and die together and extremist groups do not differentiate between religions,” LBCI television quoted the president as saying.

Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church Louis Raphael I Sako considered “self defense to be a sacred right,” noting that this means people protecting themselves and not forming militias or units.

“This destroys Iraq and the state’s forces are the one that should be tasked with protection,” he said.

Sako also declared that “speaking in constitutional terms, establishing a province for Christians in Iraq is possible.”

“This issue has become acceptable but it could be achieved through dialogue not through fighting,” he stressed.

Earlier in the day, al-Rahi rejected “the fragmentation of peoples’ security by terrorist organizations.”

He urged during a visit to Erbil “the international community to mobilize” to thwart the threat of the ISIL and other terrorist groups.

“We should work on liberating the Christians who should remain in Iraq and the rest of the Arab world,” he added.

“We must remain in these countries because the world is in need of the light of the Bible,” he declared.

“We demand that the displaced be allowed to return to their land with dignity. We will not accept anything less than that,” stressed al-Rahi.

The patriarch was accompanied on his trip by Gregorios III Laham, Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Youssef III Younan and Ignatius Aphrem II, the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

“We are heading to Erbil as a first step in the implementation of the statement issued by the patriarchs in their last meeting,” stated al-Rahi ahead of his departure from Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.

“The first and essential clause in the statement is our support for Christians who have left their houses because of the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations,” he added.

The clergymen are scheduled to meet with Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church Louis Raphael I Sako upon their arrival to Erbil.

Islamic State militants in Iraq have been waging a campaign against minorities in Iraq, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

Pope Francis called Monday for collective action through the United Nations to “stop unjust aggression” in Iraq.

Last week as thousands from Iraq’s Yazidi and Christian minorities fled attacks by IS jihadists, Francis made a plea to the U.N. to do all it could to stop the violence.

The Vatican’s ambassador to the United Nations, Silvano Tomasi, had voiced support days earlier for U.S. air strikes, in a rare exception to papal policy promoting peaceful conflict resolution.

The United States has launched dozens of air strikes in Iraq since early August to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces pushing back IS militants in the north.