Stories from Kurdistan

Do not radicalize the Kurds

The following article was originally published in Rudaw.

First of all, I am not a Kurd, I am a Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Christian from Erbil, a descendent of Babylon and Assyria, a descendent of the one of the most ancient Christian churches, the Church of the East.

I have lived all my entire life beside my Kurdish friends, most of them Muslims, and others Yezidis and Kakeis. Since elementary school in my town Ankawa, which is considered today the largest Christian city in Iraq and Kurdistan, and until finishing my MA studies in Erbil, I had made many good Kurdish friends.

The Kurds, a nation of 45 million, have been separated between several countries, and they have struggled more than a century for their rights to be identified as a nation, to have the right to speak their own language, to sing their songs freely, to govern themselves according to their values and principles. Sadly they were killed, tortured, oppressed, and even denied their existence by the countries they have lived in, only because they wanted to live according to their standards and not according to other people goals.

My focus here is on the Kurds of Mesopotamia, the Kurds I have lived with, the Kurds I know very well, who faced genocide during Saddam Hussein’s regime, in Halabja, and Anfal, more than 5,000 villages destroyed, personally targeted, and yet they never became radicals.

I was a little child in elementary school in 1991 when more than 10,000 Iraqi Arab soldiers surrendered to the Peshmerga during the March uprising. Soldiers from the same army who had killed more than 182,000 Kurds just a few years earlier. By a decision from Peshmerga leader Masoud Barzani the Iraqi soldiers were welcomed in the mosques, churches, and schools by the people, the Peshmerga, and the wounded well treated, then all sent back to their families with respect and dignity. This wise decision formed the new face of the Kurdistan Region after the uprising, formed a moderate community, a society believing in diversity and multiculturalism.

I am not saying that Kurdistan Region is perfect, but it has proven itself for us as ethnic and religious minorities, especially the Christians, as a friendly place to live in with dignity, security, and respect. It was for this reason, too that more than 90 percent of Christians fled the center and south of Iraq and settled in Kurdistan, after 114 of their churches in Baghdad, Mosul, and other cities in Iraq were targeted. In 2016 alone eight Chaldean churches were closed in Baghdad. At the same time two new churches were built in Erbil, and three others are being built in Erbil and Duhok. The Kurdish Peshmerga defended the world against the most ruthless terrorist group in humanity history ISIS, and defended the peaceful religious and ethnic coexistence by sacrificing more than 1,750 Peshmerga.

On September 25, in a democratic and popular initiative the people of Kurdistan Region decided through a referendum to shape their future relations with the central Iraqi government, but what did they get as a result of this move which is guaranteed by the international law?

Despite many attempts by the KRG for peaceful talks with the central government, Baghdad is still not listening to the moderate voices calling for peace and reconciliation. Kurdistan was attacked by the sectarian PMF forces backed by Iran and armed by advanced American Abrams tanks. Even then, captured Iraqi soldiers in Makhmour were freed and their wounded treated, while on the contrary hundreds of Kurdish homes were set on fire and destroyed in Kirkuk, and Tuz Khurmatu, 160,000 were displaced, the Kurdish flag burnt by Iraqi forces and Kurdish journalists attacked and killed in the brutal method of ISIS. All of this happened before the eyes of the democratic world, a mainly Christian world.

During the referendum campaign, hundreds of thousands of Kurdistani people at home, in Europe, and worldwide rallied peacefully for their rights to self-determination. Does the world want these hundreds of thousands of peaceful activists radicalized? Does the world want a nation of millions to become radicals?

Kurds and Kurdistan people of different ethnic and religious groups voted by more than 92 percent for independence, an independence built on mutual understating with the central government of Baghdad, and the neighboring countries. But the answer for this democratic practice was a brutal war on Kurdistan with a suspicious international silence.

For me as a Christian, I feel embarrassed when I see no effective actions from the western Christian world toward what is happing in Kurdistan, which represents one of the most important sanctuaries for Christianity in the Middle East. This war will not threaten the existence of Kurdistan Region alone. Mark my words, this unjust war will endanger the very existence of one of the most ancient Christian communities in the world.

Finally, I want to send a message to all supporters of religious and ethnic coexistence in the world, to the lovers of peace and harmony: please help Kurdistan in these difficult times, please do not leave us alone in the face of tyranny and oppression.

This article was originally published in Rudaw.

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