Tensions regarding the disputed territory between Iraq and Kurdistan has geographically split Christians living in the Nineveh Plains between the two sides. The tension has led authorities to close down roads traversing between the disputed land, separating families who were in the process of moving back to their homes. Meanwhile, ISIS has taken advantage of the conflict by seizing two new villages in the Dibis Province. The entire situation has placed Iraq’s Christians in a very difficult position. Many leaders are warning that unless the conflict is resolved, this may be the last straw for Christians who were otherwise considering to return home.
10/17/2017 Iraq (World Watch Monitor) – Fresh large-scale fighting in the disputed territory between Iraq and its Kurdish region could further drain the region of Christians – only months after the military defeat of Islamic State persuaded some to return to their homes, experts have warned.
Small numbers of Iraqi Christians are gradually returning to the towns and villages in the northern Nineveh Plains region following three years living in camps or in cramped rental accommodation after they were forced to flee by IS in 2014.
However, fighting between Iraqi and Kurdish forces since the weekend following last month’s Kurdish referendum on independence threatens to end hopes of peace that followed the military defeat of IS in Iraq.
Stephen Rasche, legal counsel for the Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, told World Watch Monitor that sustained fighting in the region would result in Christians in northern Iraq fleeing again to escape the renewed insecurity.
“If real fighting were to break out in Nineveh, that would be the end of Christians in Nineveh; they would not wait this out. They would leave, and be unlikely to return,” he said.
He added that Nineveh was “split down the middle: on one side is the Peshmerga, on the other are Iraqi forces including the [Shia] Hashd [militias]. Christians are on both sides of the divide”. Because the Christians find themselves geographically divided, any political influence they may have is weakened.
An Iraqi Catholic priest issued a similar warning yesterday (16 October) in a communiqué from the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. Rev. Salar Kajo, vicar-general of Alqosh, said: “If full-scale war were to return to Iraq, we are afraid that Christians would not survive it.”
In the communiqué the charity suggested that the Iraqi-Kurdish violence could undo recently begun resettlement work which has enabled thousands of Iraqi Christians to return to their homes in Nineveh.
Rev. Kajo, head of a church-run reconstruction project, voiced concerns over the referendum’s impact on Christians when he addressed an audience at the UK Parliament last week.
Speaking at the launch of ‘Persecuted and Forgotten?’, a report into the persecution of Christians published by Aid to the Church in Need, he said that because the Christian-majority villages and towns lie in disputed territory, neither Baghdad nor the Kurdish administration had taken responsibility for residents’ welfare.
The Kurds “want to take lands of Christians and proclaim their states. And from the other part, the [Iraqi] government neglected these lands. They said, because we don’t know if you will follow the Kurdish government or you will follow Baghdad government”, said Rev. Kajo.
Meanwhile Aleppo-based nun Annie Demerjian described how living under IS had impacted children in Syria and created a “lost generation”.
“War is the only road open to children,” she said. “They are led into chaos [and become] unwilling actors in a hell they did not create.”