Assyrian Christian Lands Forcibly Seized in Northern Iraq

Authorities Again Petitioned to Protect the Rights of Minorities

05/17/18 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that two Kurdish Muslim brothers built an illegal home on the land of an Assyrian Christian in northern Iraq’s Brefka village. According to the Assyrian Aid Society, one of the brothers, Omar Karem, is the head of the Peshmerga Forces in the region. The land-grabbing case took place on April 20, 2018 and was reported in writing to the local authorities on May 2, 2018. There has since been no change on the ground.

The letter to the local authorities was written by a local leader and two villagers. The letter reads, “This action is a violation of the villagers’ rights and human rights. It is an infringement on our lands by these transgressors and this is disrespectful to the law. Thus, we ask you to consider our claim for the purpose of removing the excess [illegal homes] on our village lands. Also we ask for a site detection and to establish the village border and remove all the abuses.”

The illegal seizure of Christian lands in this region has been ongoing since 1991, according to the Assyrian Aid Society (AAS). They estimate that approximately 180 acres of Assyrian-Christian land has been seized by their Muslim neighbors. “Land has been taken in different places in the village, especially near the river Khabour and near the school. In 2005, Mr. Barzani sent [a delegation] to visit the village. They promised to return the land back to Assyrians in one year, but nothing has happened until this moment,” said the Assyrian Aid Society.

Instead, the following year, the Muslim tribal leaders took more land and asked for $600,000 to prevent the land grab, according to AAS. Kurdish Muslims also forcibly prevented Christians from bringing water from the Khabour river to their apple orchards. Most Christians in the village completely lost their agriculture in 2015, when unknown militants burned their farmland, depriving the community of thousands of dollars of income.

Ashur Sargon, President of Assyrian Aid Society—Iraq, said, “[This] land grab is a sample case showing how Assyrian Christians are indigenous peoples of Iraq… There [are] around 58 cases for land grabs recorded in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Most of them still their owners are suffering without any real reaction or solutions from the KRG… Now it is the last chance to stop land grabbing actions for these cases.”

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “The forced seizure of Assyrian Christian lands in northern Iraq is an all too common occurrence that has been taking place for decades. They are targeted by Kurdish Muslims because they are a vulnerable minority group that owns fertile farmland. Often, the authorities are either negligent in righting this wrong or complicit in its execution. The failure of neighbors and authorities to protect the rights of minorities has broken community trust and furthered the decline of Christianity in Iraq. Unless tangible steps are taken to protect the rights of Christians, many will simply leave.”

For interviews with Claire Evans, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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