A church under construction in Erbil, Kurdistan Region. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region— Situated in the Christian township of Ainkawa, north of Erbil, the Church of St. Petrous and Pols is said to be the largest church in Kurdistan Region, and one of the greatest in Iraq when the construction is completed later this year.
The church houses rooms for the sick, bride and groom dressing, cafeteria, offices, conferences, training, baptism pool and is reportedly built on a budget of 500 million Iraqi dinars ($430,000).
“The church will be among the most magnificent and largest churches in Iraq. The project itself has been developed over several years and will even house a school for Christian studies and languages. It will have a modern architecture which will also reflect the history of Erbil and its surrounding areas,” said Ashour Jarjis who is in charge of the construction.
There are currently 127 churches and 34 shrines in the Kurdistan Region and plans are underway to increase the number in the coming years after the mass migration of Christian families from Baghdad and Nineveh Plains to Kurdistan intensified over the past decade.
Accurate data is still difficult to come by about the number of Christian refugees in Kurdistan Region but authorities say it could be as high as 200,000 people with the majority of them living in Ainkawa and Shaqlawa north of Erbil.
Authorities have also plans to complete the construction of the headquarters of the Assyrian Church after it was relocated to Erbil from the U.S. two years ago.
Mar Gerges III was consecrated as the new patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in Ainkawa in 2015.
The headquarters of the Assyrian Church were moved to Chicago in 1940 due to political tensions and violence and have remained in the U.S. city since.
Christian activist warned last year that the continued migration of Iraq's Christians to Europe will have long-lasting impact on their vulnerable communities across the country including in the Kurdistan Region. According to activists, the exodus of especially young people is "so high" it could endanger the future of the Church in the ISIS-stricken country.
It is estimated that Christians in Iraq make up over 3 percent of the population. According to the 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.
Unofficial estimates suggest that over 60,000 Assyrians still live in the Kurdistan region, but the majority of Assyrians see the Nineveh Plains as their ancestral homeland, and would prefer more self-rule for their community.