ssyrian official: Iraqi state failed to protect us

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By Khalid Hussein
Iranian Assyrian Christians held a demonstration in front of the UN office in Tehran on Monday, November 15. 2014.
MOSCOW, Russia — A leading member of the Assyrian community in Iraq says the failure of the Iraqi government to protect Christians has led to the mass migration of the religious minority out of the country or to the northern parts of Iraq controlled by Kurdish Peshmarga forces.

“We are worried for our future,” says Ashour Givargis, head of the Assyrian Movement in Iraq. “We have no trust in the ruling establishment in Baghdad to protect our rights.”

According to the last Iraqi census, in 1987, 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq, including the Assyrian community, although many left the country during the 1990s when severe economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq.

Other native Assyrian communities can be found just outside Iraq’s borders in northeast Syria, southeast Turkey and northwest Iran. According to UN human rights organizations, between 2 and 3 million Assyrians live in these countries.

“We have a right to an independent entity, like other nations,” says Givargis. “We trust international treaties more than the will of the Iraqi state to grant us our rights,” he adds.

Most of the Iraqi Assyrians are now part of the 1.3 million refugees in Kurdistan Region, although there are no official numbers.

The Christian community in Kurdistan has largely been guaranteed some national rights including the right of education in their native language and forming political associations. Unlike in Baghdad and Mosul where Christian sites and churches are regularly targeted, which has led to the mass exodus, no such attacks have been recorded in Kurdistan Region.

But the Christians remain a vulnerable group even in Kurdistan where the majority of people identify with the Sunni branch of Islam, although more tolerant than in the rest of the Sunni world.

“I have seen good actions from Kurdish authorities regarding the Christians,” says Olle Fomin, who is a Russian activist monitoring the condition of the Assyrians in the region and who travelled to Erbil recently. “But indeed even there Christians complained about lack of full protection,” he adds.

Kurdish authorities have ratified a law that makes it difficult for non-Christians to own property in Christian neighbourhoods in order to protect their communities from further disintegration. Neighbourhoods like Ainkawa in the suburb of Erbil, for instance, is a such district which recently turned into a hub for Christian refugees embracing thousands of families.