ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — On the 84th anniversary of the of the former Iraqi Kingdom’s attack that killed thousands of Assyrian people in northern Iraq, Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has stated that steps towards independence from Iraq are the only way to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.
“The only medicine for all our pains and the only guarantee to ensure that disasters are not repeated is to take steps toward independence,” wrote Barzani in a statement on Sunday.
From August 7 to August 11 in 1933, the armed forces of the Kingdom of Iraq attacked 63 Assyrian villages in what are now located in the provinces of Nineveh and Duhok. The campaign left around 3,000 Assyrians dead, according to a 2003 report from the International Federation for Human Rights.
The Assyrians are one of the oldest ethnic groups in Mesopotamia and northern Iraq, tracing their own history back 6,767 years. Religiously, they are now predominately Christian and locally split along Chaldean, Syriac, and Ashuri sects.
“On occasion of the 84th anniversary of this disaster which is concurrent with the third anniversary of the ISIS brutal attack on Christian brothers and sisters and other communities in Nineveh plains,” Barzani wrote, “I reiterate that Christian brothers and sisters along with all the other communities of Kurdistan in the past, now and in the future, times of pain and success, have been involved and share the same destiny.”
According to 1987 Iraqi census, 1.4 million Christians, including the Assyrian community, lived in Iraq. But many have since migrated to the West after years of persecution and economic hardship.
“The Simele massacre is part of the hardship and calamities which happened to all the people of Kurdistan,” Barzani added. “It is also strong evidence that partnership has been meaningless in the state of Iraq, genocide, extermination and massacres have been the share of social and religious makeup of the country.”
Local community leaders now estimate that about 400,000 Christians were living in Iraq (including the Kurdistan Region) prior to the rise of ISIS in 2014. About half that many still remain in 2017, with nearly 200,000 having immigrated to places like Lebanon, Sweden, Australia and other western states.
“And now that the nation of Kurdistan is taking steps toward independence, the demands and rights of Christian brothers and sisters in Kurdistan will be protected in all stages, fraternity and coexistence in Kurdistan will be stronger,” Barzani wrote.
The Kurdistan Region plans to hold a referendum on independence on September 25. The minister for Kurdistani areas outside of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s administration has announced preparations for the vote.
Iraq’s Shiite-led Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary units and Kurdish Peshmerga now have largely provided security in Christian areas across Nineveh.
Most Christians in Iraq fled to the Kurdistan Region when ISIS came in 2014. Fractured along their own political and sectarian lines, some Christian families have begun returning to their villages in places like Qarakosh, Bartella, Tel Skof and Al-Qosh, as they continue to call for further protection — often from the international community.
The director of media for the Assyrian Democratic Movement spoke with Rudaw English about what his community is doing to remember the atrocities of 1933.
"For us, this is a like a genocide,” Kaldo Ramzi, a Chaldean from Ankawa said. “Every year we remember this as a symbol of our suffering and surviving in Iraq.”
He explained that tomorrow there will be events between Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Syriacs to remember this and other massacres their people have faced.
Ramzi believes that Baghdad and Erbil should stop struggling for control in Nineveh because this is such a diverse area.
On the topic of Christian IDPs or those who are in Nineveh or elsewhere participating in the referendum, Ramzi said they have expressed in three meetings with President Barzani that if the KRG wants to tell the world it is inclusive, then they need to back it up with actions.
“We have emphasized that our name, symbols and language haven't been incorporated into Kurdistan,” Ramzi explained. “We do need some people to participate, but they shouldn’t feel obligated to participate.”