Ainkawa’s Christians welcome move to elevate town’s status

Author: Dilan Sirwan

Publication Date: 7/10/2021

Source: Rudaw

In the predominantly Christian neighbourhood of Ainkawa, young people said a recent decision to elevate the town’s status to a district is an “excellent step towards the right path,” hoping it will give Christians the right to elect their own leaders and convince people not to emigrate.

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani made the announcement that his government would start working toward declaring Ainkawa a district during a visit to the town on Monday.

“This is a major, crucial development, as it gives us, the Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac residents of Ainkawa the right to appoint our own leaders and directly assume management over Ainkawa,” Julian Bechocha, a 21-year-old Chaldean Catholic, told Rudaw English on Wednesday. “The Kurdistan Region has long been seen as a haven of coexistence among a war-torn region, and this move solidifies that narrative even further, as it may potentially convince Christians to think otherwise before leaving Kurdistan.”

Ainkawa, situated on the northern edge of Erbil, is home to a large Christian population, several churches, and a Catholic university.

“I believe that Ainkawa’s status as the largest Christian-majority district in not only Kurdistan and Iraq, but the entire Middle East, improves Kurdistan’s image greatly and may potentially persuade diaspora Assyrians and Chaldeans to return and invest in their home communities,” Bechocha said.

When the Islamic State group (ISIS) seized control of vast swathes of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, thousands of Iraqi Christians fled their homes, seeking shelter in the Kurdistan Region. Churches in Ainkawa took in many of their brethren before they were resettled in camps or emigrated abroad.

Upgrading Ainkawa’s status “finally addresses the vital lack of self-representation and autonomy for Kurdistan and Iraq’s Christians,” Avesta Yousif, 20, told Rudaw English. “Not only is this move welcomed by Ainkawa’s indigenous Christians, but also by the tens of thousands of persecuted Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac Christians from the Nineveh Plains who sought Ainkawa as their sanctuary following the rise of ISIS.”

“Ainkawa’s declaration as a district may finally attract desperately-needed foreign investment, as Iraq and Kurdistan’s Christian population is yet to recover from al-Qaeda and ISIS’s terrors, and is in dire need of economic support,” she added.

The move by the KRG was also welcomed by Christian communities abroad.

Iraq’s Christian community has been devastated in the past two decades. Following the US-led invasion in 2003, sectarian warfare prompted followers of Iraq’s multiple Christian denominations to flee, and attacks by ISIS in 2014 hit minority communities especially hard. According to data from Erbil’s Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda, there were more than one million Christians in Iraq before 2003. Fewer than 300,000 remain today.

There are around 7,000 Christian families residing in Ainkawa, making up more than 50,000 people, and according to Warda it is the largest Christian community in the Middle East.

“Ainkawa since 2003 has been a safe place of refuge for all Christians in Iraq,” Warda told Rudaw English on Wednesday, adding that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is sending a message that the Christians are of vital importance to Kurdistan Region and they are looked at with respect and honor.

“I am sure this decision will also affect the services in Ainkawa, to have more money coming in from the government to improve the infrastructure. We have a big hospital, we have a university, we have schools, and a variety of communities. So I would say this decision will take Ainkawa to another level and hopefully this will attract investors to come and do their business, which will affect the life of the community by providing more jobs. And this in the end will have a positive effect on the stability of the Christians,” he added.

Barzani has appointed the minister of interior, Erbil governor, and the Erbil provincial council to take the necessary measures to make the town as a district and it is expected to be finalized after the October 10 Iraqi parliamentary election.


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