Church leaders worried about the consequences for Christians after
Since the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly in favour of separation from Iraq last week, tension has been increasing in Iraq. The referendum decision will initiate a process of negotiation between Iraq and Kurdistan, which Kurdish leaders say will lead to the region’s independence.
Church leaders are concerned that Kurdistan’s decision to separate from Iraq could lead to more conflict and uncertainty in a region that has already faced immeasurable suffering in recent years. Although there are no signs of hope in Iraq, “there is still much of uncertainty and danger that threatens the region,” said Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, at ACN’s “Back to the Roots” conference on 28 Sept
“The referendum of Kurdistan, toward independence from Baghdad, is creating an escalation of tension between the two governments and we can almost hear the beats of war drums,” Sako said. “Today, our people are living with the fear of being engaged in another war, which means more chaos, more bloodshed, destruction and refugees. They are concerned about stability, security and worried about going back to live with daily crimes of robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of Christians that has become so common.”
Patriarch Sako fears that if the confrontation between the two sides becomes violent, Christians and minorities, whose full rights are not acknowledged by either government, will be caught in the crossfire and “will once again pay the highest price.” This will “certainly result in another exodus of Christians from their homeland,” he added. The displacement and migration of Christians have a hugely negative impact on the country and Christians vanishing from Iraq would be an “irreplaceable” loss.
Sako stated Iraqis must “find a way of living together.” At the moment “there is a mentality of violence (and) the people are already tired,” he said. “So we need to help the people think in a new way.”
Speaking at the ACN conference, Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin, apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, also voiced anxiety over the consequences of the referendum and the backlash the vote has received from various international leaders. “The Baghdad government, as was foreseeable, opposed this initiative by considering it illegal and against the constitution and is now taking countermeasures,” he said.
Referring to positions taken by both the United Nations Office for Iraq and its Secretary-General, Ortega highlighted the “inappropriateness” of the referendum in the country’s current political and social climate, and echoed the U.N. office’s desire for both the Kurdish government and the central Iraqi government to “resolve open issues through dialogue and negotiation.”
Authorities in surrounding countries such as Turkey and Iran have also condemned the vote, threatening to “take measures” against Kurdistan. Iranian and Iraqi central government forces are to hold joint military exercises near their borders, Iran’s state television reported on Saturday, as part of Tehran’s effort to support Baghdad after the Kurdish independence referendum. State television quoted a military spokesman as saying the decision to hold the war games in the next few days was taken at a meeting of top Iranian military commanders which also “agreed on measures to establish border security and receive Iraqi forces that are to be stationed at border posts”.