In Iraqi Kurdistan, a large number of Christians have left the country due to continued targeted violence and threats against them. The region’s smallest religious minorities, including Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, other Christians, Sabean Mandaeans and Yazidis, have been particularly affected.
These communities have substantially diminished in size, many of their members have fled the country and the number of Christian clergymen and churches that are used as houses of worship has also declined. Many places of habitation for Christians were either destroyed or closed to them as a result of conflicts in the region. In Duhok, for example, where the Christian community predominantly lives,
there are only eight priests who cater to the communities attending 39 churches.
The migration of the Christian community has taken place amidst targeting, murders and abductions during the war period and conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and during periods where there have been security concerns in the region, destruction of houses and the weakening of social relations that has led to the endangerment of these communities. Many Christian communities have been made refugees multiple times over the years in this region.
There are only eight priests in Duhok
Flip Dawud, a Nersi Church priest, in an interview with KirkukNow, said: “There are only eight priests in our 39 churches in Duhok. We need dozens of priests. There is a need for priests, especially in the villages. In some villages, priests can only currently visit them once a month. Due to the lack of priests, most of the local residents have to go to the central churches”.
The lack of security and continuing military clashes that are taking place, especially around Nineveh and Duhok, have prevented many Christians in the region from attending services and activities in the churches. Due to the operations of the Turkish armed forces in the region, most of the Christians and other religious minority communities have had to leave their homes. Reportedly, at least ten churches have been closed due to these concerns regarding attacks and growing levels of violence caused by interventions of the Turkish armed forces.
The looting and destruction of Christian churches by ISIS
Muna Hena Meti, who had to migrate from Sinjar to the Sêci Village of the Simêli district in Duhok six years ago, states that before the war, there were three major churches in Sinjar and the people visited these churches constantly. In addition to these three churches, 80 churches and Christian places were looted or destroyed by ISIS. Most of these destroyed churches have not been repaired.
A reduction in the Christian population in the region
Halid Cemal, the Head of the Christian Department of the Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Kurdistan Region, has stated that: “Christians, whose numbers reached two million in the 1990’s, now comprise only 400,000 in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. More than 250,000 people migrated during the war with ISIS alone. We have also been victims of the Shia-Sunni war in Iraq. It is not possible for Christians to live in peace in this country once again”.
Linus Udişo, a Christian member of the Duhok Council, stated that the population of two million Christians has actually fallen to just 300,000. He added: “This number will decrease even more. The solution is for our region to become autonomous. Then the people of the region will protect themselves, bring stability to the region and our people will not be forced to migrate”.