Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – In his Easter message on Saturday, Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani praised "religious tolerance and freedom" in the Kurdistan Region, which he said overcame efforts to disturb "brotherhood and unity" among diverse religious communities in the country.
"I hope that our Christian brothers and sisters who have left their homes and areas, will soon be able to return to their areas with their heads held up high and start a new life in wellbeing and prosperity,” the president said in a written statement.
According to Iraq’s Office of Immigration, over 200,000 Christians have been driven out of their areas since ISIS attacked their communities in northern parts of Iraq in mid-2014. The attacks were concentrated especially in the volatile Nineveh Plains where Mosul is the capital and several thousand Christian families make their homes.
Some have now returned, but many have left the country altogether for a safer life elsewhere. Many more are still displaced across Kurdish controlled territories including in the Christian township of Ainkawa which has embraced over 100,000 Christian refugees.
Running from ISIS was just the latest wave of violence that displaced Iraq’s Christian population. Iraq was home to more than 1.5 million Christians before the country plunged into a sectarian conflict in the mid-2000s. Many left the country after systematic attacks on their neighborhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country.
Once a safe haven for the Christians in the Middle East, the Iraqi capital has increasingly failed to protect the security of its nearly half a million Christian community, the majority of whom have migrated to Europe since 2003, international rights groups have said.
According to reports from the office of Human Rights Committee in Kurdistan Region, the number of Christians in Baghdad has decreased to around 90,000 over the past decade with many of the young Christians leaving for exile.
"On this sacred day, I would like to say to my Christian brothers and sisters, that we share the same homeland and same destiny. You are a precious part of the Kurdistani people and will have your say about self-determination and enforcing the just rights of the people of Kurdistan,” Barzani said, referring to the anticipated Kurdistan Region referendum on independence.