Kurds in Iraq voted overwhelmingly last week in favor of seeking full independence from the central government in Baghdad — setting off a firestorm of international retaliation, including strong objections from the U.S.
But the Kurdish quest for their own country has also prodded other minorities in the region — namely the long persecuted Christian community — to vocalize their fears and frustrations about being caught in the middle, and their own ambition for some form of a “safe haven” or autonomy.
“Christians understand the sentiment of self-determination and liberty that drives every man or woman,” Mark Arabo, President of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation, told Fox News. “One thing that gives Christians hope is that if Kurdistan is successful in their effort to attain sovereignty, perhaps Christians can successfully carve out a space in the Nineveh Plains that would grant them far greater protection than is currently had.”
There are an estimated 200,000 Christians left in Iraq, down from over 1.5 million prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion, the majority of whom were forced to flee Mosul and other parts of the Nineveh Plains to the Kurdish-held north in 2014 as ISIS assaulted in on their land.
Deemed the ancestral homeland of all Christianity — many of these Christian areas in the Nineveh now lie in the disputed areas between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) based in Erbil, and the central government further south in Baghdad.
As a dwindling minority, many Christians view themselves as caught between the crossfire and no longer want to be reliant on either government for security and protection, thus the push to declare their own referendum is only gaining traction. Last month, officials in the few remaining Baghdad churches even called for help in establishing an independent state — similar to that of the Vatican.
Juliana Taimoorazy, founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, stressed that in the wake of the genocide committed against them by ISIS, the only people they can trust are their own.
“When ISIS attacked the Nineveh Plain, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi forces escaped instead of defending the towns they were assigned to protect, leaving the Christians and Yazidis vulnerable,” she claimed. “What will keep the indigenous people of the land safe and thriving is to have the right to defend and protect themselves. The only way we will thrive as a society and ensure safety is by protecting ourselves.”
SOURCE: Hollie McKay