Iraqi Christians are in 'state of fear' after Kurdish Independence Referendum, bishops warn

Rural Village on the Nineveh PlainsWikimedia

Church leaders in northern Iraq have warned that the Christian presence in the region could be threatened by last week's Kurdistan independence referendum if it leads to conflict

In the referendum, 93 per cent voted in favour of independence, though the Iraqi government has dismissed its legality.

Five senior Catholic and Orthodox bishops have appealed to the international community to protect Christians who live in territories, like the Nineveh Plains, which are claimed by both the government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

In their statement, they wrote: 'We cannot hide our concern that the situation for the Christians has become very difficult and leads to uncertainty.

'This situation has created in Christians a state of fear and concern about the possibility that the struggle may develop into a crisis that will have far-reaching repercussions for all.'

The bishops stressed that many of Nineveh's Christians face uncertainty, many of them still displaced in Erbil after they were forced to flee their homes by Daesh (ISIS) in 2014. They expressed fears that the restoration needed to towns and villages ravaged by this violence wold come to a halt now it is uncertain what will happen to the area.

'The historical areas of our people, the areas liberated from the control of the criminal ISIS gangs are in an appalling condition in terms of reconstruction, public services, and security.

'There are no serious attempts at reconstructing the area at all by the governments. This makes it difficult for the IDPs [internally displaced persons] to return, thereby prolonging their plight.'

The bishops called for the Nineveh Plains to not be divided between Iraq and an independent Kurdistan.

'Our vulnerable community cannot withstand further schism and division in addition to the ongoing political and sectarian fights.'

The bishops called for the Iraqi Federal Government and the KRG to 'opt for dialogue and moderation and to stop the escalation of the conflict through the media.

The bishops also honoured the way the Kurdish people had supported Christians who were forced to leave their homes.

'Undoubtedly, we Christians can never forget how our brothers in Kurdistan Region, as a people and government, received us and supported our displaced persons, not only Christians but also other components of the Iraqi people.'