Plan for autonomous homeland for persecuted Middle East Christians
Christians driven from their ancestral homelands and persecuted by Islamist terrorists are calling for an autonomous region of their own to be established when peace is restored in the Middle East.
Representatives of Iraq’s Christian, Yazidi and other religious minority communities have travelled to Washington to put forward a plan to carve out a sovereign state in the Nineveh Plain. Their plan has the backing of several lawmakers, including Rep. Jeff Fortenberry who introduced a congressional resolution supporting the idea.
The proposed plan is a response to declarations by Congress and the State Department last March that Islamic State was responsible for genocide against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the region. A safe zone that could evolve into a sovereign state could provide protection for minorities from militant groups.
“Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities have been slaughtered and driven from their homes by ISIL’s horrific genocide,” said Fortenberry at the In Defense of Christians’ national convention.
“One next step must be the re-securitisation and revitalization of the Nineveh Plain, allowing the repatriation of those who had to flee,” he added. “This resolution, which follows on the government of Iraq’s own initiative to create a province in the Nineveh Plain region, seeks to restore the ancestral homeland of so many suffering communities.”
The Nineveh Plain region, also known as the Plain of Mosul, is the ancestral homeland of Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Christians, Yazidis and other minorities. All these minority groups were heavily persecuted by Islamic State after it took control of the region in 2014. Many of those who have been displaced consider the Nineveh Plain as the cradle of their faith and want to return to their homeland when peace is restored.
“Establishment of the Nineveh Plain Province is part of a larger strategy of decentralization that is aimed at stabilizing the Republic of Iraq by devolving power to local communities,” said Robert Nicholson, executive director of the Philos Project, which worked with Fortenberry and other members of Congress to draft the resolution. “We believe that the instability of Iraq has been caused largely by a central government that is too powerful, and local ethnic and religious blocs that feel cut out of the political process.”
Nicholson makes it clear that Christians and Yazidis are calling for the creation of a new province within the framework of the Iraqi Constitution and not a new and independent state. “The Iraqi Constitution contains explicit protections for minorities and for creating new provinces,” he said. “In January 2014, the Iraqi Cabinet of Ministers decided to create a new province on the Nineveh Plain, in addition to three other provinces, but the advent of ISIS put those plans on hold. We are simply calling for Iraq to resume that process once ISIS is rolled back, and we want to pledge as much US support as possible.”
Support from the United States could give the proposed plan an important boost and lay the groundwork for establishing security for the region if the new state is developed. However, this could only happen after Islamic State has been driven out from the region.
“Everything depends on defeating ISIS,” Nicholson stated “Realistically, the full liberation of the Nineveh Plain could take several more months. But the Iraqi government has the constitutional power to act as soon as it is able. My hope is that the basic outline of the new province will be in place by the first quarter of 2017.”
The Christian population in Iraq alone has plummeted from 1.5 million in 2003 to current estimates of 275,000 and could disappear within five years if no action is taken, according to a November 2015 report from international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. The drastic reduction in numbers is due to genocide, Christians fleeing to other countries as refugees and internal displacement.