—ourselves, our Church—to keep Christians communities in our homelands. Should Christianity become a museum in its homeland? What about 2000 years of Eastern Christian Church’s contribution? To escape is not the solution of the problem.
Can you update us on the situation of the internally displaced persons in northern Iraq? They fled Mosul and villages of the Nineveh Plain last summer and have spent an entire winter in camps and trailers and unfinished buildings in Erbil. Is hope wearing thin?
What happened in northern Iraq with the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi army and the dramatic advance of IS in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain is something that was never expected to happen this fast. It’s not the first time people are fleeing from Mosul, by the way. What makes it different this time? First, this mass exodus—no Christians are left in Mosul—the volume of displacement.
The second issue is that it is now nine months—a long time for displacement. This is making it more difficult for people to survive and restore and to be confident of going back home. The only families that went back are in Alquosh, which was not reached by IS, but people fled because they were scared. So people went back after they were assured that IS cannot advance.
But speaking for Christians in the Nineveh Plain and Mosul, they are now lacking the confidence that they will go back in the near future to their villages. When they fled in August they were hoping they would be able to celebrate Christmas back home. Now we are approaching Easter, and there is no indication that they will be able to go back soon.
In addition, what makes this case special is the position and attitude and behavior of their next door neighbors. We were betrayed by our neighbors, who we shared with for decades and centuries. So there is a lack of trust. We can’t trust. It’s not only the issue of security, that IS will be defeated, definitely it will be defeated sooner or later. But just to restore Quaraquosh or Bartilla or these Christian towns on the Nineveh Plain, to liberate them from the hands of Daesh—is it enough for people to go back? No. There’s this issue of confidence that it will not happen again, the issue of trust—can I trust my next door neighbor, the Arab Sunni? The issue of infrastructure: all has been damaged.
So there are too many reasons to believe the return will not happen soon. Therefore there should be a clear plan, first, of course, to liberate it sooner, on the military level, but at the same time to protect it, to grant the status of governorate of Nineveh Plain so that the non-Muslim minorities—Christian, Yazidis—can elect their governor as all Iraqis are doing in every governorate, so they will have a portion of the Iraqi budget so they can rebuild what has been damaged. So that they feel they are building their future themselves in partnership with the Iraqi state.
Unfortunately we don’t see a clear plan for this. Thanks to all, speaking on humanitarian level, on Church level, organizations, speaking on military level, who are helping the IDPs and stopping the advance of IS. But we are so far only dealing with outcomes of the problem; we need to deal with the roots of the problem. Otherwise there will be an opening [for terrorists].
This year is the 100th anniversary of the Christian genocide under the Ottomans, but we are still living the same. So it’s an open-ended genocide for Eastern Christians. We need to deal with the roots—otherwise it will happen again.
How can a governorate be initiated?
It’s a very clear legal, constitutional way, and they started before the advance of IS. The cabinet can suggest to the parliament to create it. We have 18 governorates in Iraq, and the 19th will be created soon, the Halabjah (in Kurdistan). So Nineveh would be maybe the 20th. But is there any political will for Muslim ruling parties, whether Shi’ites or Sunnis, to give this dignity to the Christians and Yazidis? The dhimmitude culture is ruling in Baghdad, by Shia and Sunnis. The Christians and non-Muslims are not a priority. We no more trust the nice wording that comes from Iraqi rulers in Baghdad after every massacre, every persecution. We feel enough is enough. We need action.