Turkish bombardments add to Iraqi Christians misfortunes: Dozens of families displaced and 10 churches closed

Duhok, 2020 - Mar Ith-Alaha Church in Duhok City - Photo by Ammar Aziz

Ammar Aziz - Duhok

In less than a month, dozens of Christian families at the Iraq-Turkey border region were displaced and 10 churches had to be closed, due to Turkey’s military incursion.

Turkey’s air and ground operations started mid-June 2020 as Turkish forces penetrated Iraqi territory in Duhok Province and clashes started with PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party).

Manal Toma, commissioner of the Christian village Sharansh in Duhok, told KirkukNow: “It has been 10 days since we left our village. We don’t know what to do, we have lost a lot. Hundreds of my fruit trees will be left without being cared for.”

If the situation remains so dire, greater catastrophe is to be expected

Toma added: “Four Christian villages in our area have been completely evacuated, and there exists risk for others to be evacuated as well. If the situation remains so dire, greater catastrophe is to be expected.”

According to KirkukNow’s inquiries, due to Turkey’s military operations and its conflict with the PKK, more than 80 families from villages in the border region have been displaced to Duhok city and the town of Zakho.”

The Christians from that region fear for their lives and their livelihood, which mainly comes from agriculture. Toma said: “We haven’t watered our plants and trees for 10 days now, they are about to die out. That’s why we ask the international community to help us.”

THe Iraqi government has officially demanded from Turkey to halt its operations, but the latter is adamant in continuing the war, claiming it is for maintaining its national security and removing threats from its border areas.

As for the government of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, in a statement, it has asked Turkey and the PKK to take the conflict out of the territories of the Kurdistan Region.

Zeravan Musa, the administration head of the Darkar subdistrict in Zakho, told KirkukNow: “There are 10 Christian villages in our area, but not all were desolate; a few families were still living in some of them, but those were [recently]  forced to leave as well. They are taking shelter in the homes of their relatives in the town of Zakho.”

Turkish airstrikes have caused the death and injury of several civilians in the provinces of Duhok, Nineveh and Sulaimania in the past few weeks.

no Christain civilians were injured, and that there is only material damage

Musa said that no Christain civilians were injured, and that there is only material damage, as they had to leave their agricultural lands. And that together with security officials are trying to find a way for the villagers to care for their plants.

kanisay margorgis
Mar Gorgis Church in Zakho, Duhok - Photo from the church PR

It is not the first time Christian of Iraq are forced to leave their homes. In recent years, thousands of families were displaced when ISIS took control over Nineveh. They were given three choices: convert to Islam, pay Jiziya (a taxation forced on Christian and Jewish subjects of past Islamic empires), or leave.

A Christian member of Duhok Province Administration, Faris Yuahanna, told KirkukNow: “Turkey’s attacks on the PKK bases and outposts are a big threat for the Christian villages, because most of those villages are located in the border area between Turkey and Duhok Province.”

In the district of Zakho, there are about 20 Christain villages with a total of about 12,000 residents.

“Two Christian villages in Zakho, 80 families used to live, have been completely evacuated.

From other villages as well, people keep moving to Zakho and Duhok city centres,” said Yuhanna.

the situation is very bad, the Christian have lost the most

Yuhanna said that more than 10 Churches are closed, and added: “the situation is very bad, the Christian have lost the most; they’ve had to leave their orchards and fields, the source of their livelihood.”

The new wave of displacement comes at a time when thousands of Christian families are still displaced and dwell in camps. Of a total of 700,000 IDPs and refugees residing in the Kurdistan Region, 7% are Christians, according to statistics from Februari 2020 released by KRG.

Parliamentary committees for Peshmerga Affairs, Interior, Security and Local Councils, and Relations have conducted on-the-ground investigations of Turkey’s operations at the border areas, with the aim of estimating their effects and damages, including displacements.

Duhok, July 2020 - Parliamentary  delegation visiting areas effected by Turkish military operations - Photo by Paliaments PR -  

Reving Hururi, head of Peshmerga Affairs at Kurdistan Region Parliament, told KirkukNow: “We went to [the affected areas in] Zakho, Amedi and Akre. We gathered the necessary [information] for an investigation on the damages by Turkey’s attacks, including displacements and evacuations of villages.”

According to Hururi, the results of their investigation will soon be submitted to the parliament leadership to be discussed and the necessary decisions on the issue to be taken.

The number of Christians in Iraq was more than 1,5 million, which constituted 3% of the country’s total population. Until the invasion of Iraq by the United States-led coalition in 2003, that number was around 800,000. Currently the number has come down to about 500,000, according to a statistic from 2019 shown to KirkukNow by Cardinal Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

The Christians of Iraq mostly reside in the provinces of Duhok, Nineveh, Kirkuk, Erbil and Baghdad.

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