When Kurdistan is discussed as a haven for the Christians and all minorities in Iraq, one must first recognize that they are currently a Region of Iraq.
On Sept. 25, the people in this region will vote on independence. That alone brings problems, as they have sought their independence for many years now for many reasons: Monies from the Iraqi government are not received as expected, and shipments of goods through Iraqi airports are either very slow or do not arrive at all. This, of course, presents problems for the paying of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) workers and Peshmerga forces. I was recently informed that Peshmerga have not received payment since May of this year. The retirees have received no funds from the Government of Iraq since November of 2016. The equipment needed to defend Kurdistan is either beyond their means or does not ever arrive when donated. Still, they stand and defend.
The point I make above is to show that the further influx of displaced persons, including the Christians of Nineveh Plain, brings about further costs and responsibilities. Still, they took them in. They defended them and fought for their homes. Were there problems? Undoubtedly. Kurdistan itself was not under attack, but the Plains needed to be protected from an outright genocide of all those not in the same religious mindset as ISIS.
Only days ago, I was in Kurdistan on a tour of the Christian towns, villages, camps and medical facilities. In this lies the truth. With me were journalists from Canada who wanted just that — the truth. Without hesitation, Mr. Noreldin Waisy of Kurdistan24 media company and Mr. Khalid Talia, the KRG Minister of Christian Affairs, supplied us with vehicles, hotel assistance and protection to allow us to roam with free will to speak with the people and see for ourselves what is happening.
On the boarder of the Peshmerga defenses is a town, now deserted of its all-Christian population, called Batnaya. It is a ghost town. The once-beautiful church is strewn with rubble, riddled with bullet holes, and graffitied and desecrated beyond my description here. We were told by Peshmerga leaders that 48 troops lost their lives and over 100 more were wounded in retaking this once-lovely town.
While here in the West, I heard many comments about the Peshmerga not allowing people to go home. That is a fact in some cases. Teleskof is now free for the people to return home. On the other hand, Batnaya is a different situation. First, many of the homes present a danger, as they are structurally unstable. But in addition, there are hidden bombs and various traps left behind by ISIS. It is for the people’s own protection that the Peshmerga have asked them not to return as yet. Yet another problem is ISIS soldiers trying to pass themselves off as “typical” population by shaving their beards, etc., in order to escape. Many people have been detained until the military is sure that they are not the enemy.
We also visited a clinic with Archbishop Bashar Warda and visited Archbishop Yohanno Petros Moshe. The clinic was founded by those with Christian faith, yet it opens its doors to everyone — and has already treated over 2,700 chronic cases among the seniors’ population without prejudice.
While in Erbil, Kurdistan, we also witnessed people freely and without concern attending their individual places of worship. Kurdistan seems to be the only area of Iraq where such freedom exists. Life for Christians and minorities has not been easy in Iraq. There is no perfection or utopia available anywhere on earth. We must seek the most promising scenario. With Kurdistan, the people can stay in their known areas and practice their faith and raise their children without fear.
Kurdistan has spoken openly of wanting to join the economically developed countries of the world rather than staying in the Third World scenario put forward by the various governments surrounding them. That in itself is an enormous step forward for all the population.
We are requesting an Autonomous Region to be part of Kurdistan when it is independent. This must be voted on by the people of Nineveh Plain. The new Charter would include us if the vote is a positive one; I very much doubt that the terms of such an agreement would be denied by the people. It would make the world at large a happier place for everyone involved. It is the safest and most promising alternative for the Christians and minorities of Iraq.
• Medlum Merogi is the Canadian representative of the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council, which is based in Duhok, Kurdistan in Iraq.
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