Trending: occupation of Christian properties in Kurdistan

Duhok 2020- The local authorities reject renovation of the old Christian neighborhood. Photo by Ammar Aziz.

Ammar Aziz, Duhok

Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan complain of taking over their properties and lands by influential figures and tribe chieftains while a report by a special committee addressing the issue is missing, another committee to replace it and the real will for termination of the trend is absent.

Takeover and trespass on properties for the Christian community in Kurdistan is decades old yet in the last weeks it was highlighted in the media and social media platforms as delegation paid a visit to the regional parliament.

The delegation was conveying a message from the vulnerable community that if the issue of capture and occupation of their lands is not fairly addressed; it might lead to serious consequences.

Isho Inyoya Yaqo, a Christian from the village of Khelana, Dinarta sub-district of Akry district, in Duhok, says "a 3-donum inherited from my grandfather who came to this village in 1922 and registered under my name has been taken supported by a tribe."

"A 3-donum inherited from my grandfather who came to this village in 1922 and registered under my name has been taken supported by a tribe."

The case was taken to court which ruled in favor of Yaqo yet "they don’t care about court and reject to return it back. They ask for tribal solution by dividing the land and I refuse that totally and want our property back."

The issue leads to friction but it has not cause casualties yet. "We will not leave our area for anybody. We call on the KRG to speed up the process of solving the issue," Yaqo desperately said.

In the 1990s, the Christian population was estimated at 2 million people but due to the sectarian violence which plagued the country it is currently estimated at 400,000 only, Khalid Jamal, director of Christian affairs at the Awqaf and religious affairs of KRG.

Only during the fight against Daesh in 2014-2015, about 250,000 Christians were displaced and migrated, Jamal said.


Duhok- The church of Martyr Marays Illaha. Photo by Ammar Aziz.

Only in the villages of Dinarta, 150 Christian families reported occupation of their lands, said Andryos Michael, the bishop of Christians in Akry. Many of it are now orchards, and houses were built over others.   

According to a report by the Christians within a report to Kurdistan regional government KRG in 2018, lands were seized in 54 villages, only half of it have been sorted out.

In the Christian dominant sub-district of Ainkawa in Erbil, 223 families filed complaints to the KRG and the parliament against trespass over their lands yet only 40 of them have been repatriated.  

In 2018, the KRG has decided to task a committee to put an end to trespass over lands of the Christian community yet it has failed to accomplish its mission.

On October 25th 2020, another committee replaced it represented by six ministries.  

Linos Odisho, member of Duhok provincial council and member of 2018 committee told KirkukNow they have toured all the territories under the KRG where lands of Christians were occupied. All the documents, evidences and data collected in one year have been submitted to the council of ministers in a report.

"Not only the issue has not been terminated, the entire report went missing in the council of ministers. I have inquired 2-3 times about the report yet they said it was not delivered while we submitted it by ourselves."

"Not only the issue has not been terminated, the entire report went missing in the council of ministers."

Odisho believes the issue is greater than the Christians expect as some of those took over the lands, received court verdicts yet they are not ready to listen and "the occupation of properties for the Christians is ongoing."

"The issue requires a will which is unfortunately we don’t see from the government."

About 14 Christian sects live in Iraq since the first centuries of the religion as Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian and Armenian. Christianity ranks the second religion after Islam in Iraq and it is a recognized religion by Iraqi constitution and their official language is Syriac.

They were mainly living in the provinces of Baghdad, Nineveh, Duhok, Basra, Kirkuk and Erbil.

Christians whom suffered decades of discrimination and persecution since fall of Saddam regimes in 2003 amid the majority Muslim population and its leaders, have found north of Iraq a safe haven till the pop up of So-called Islamic State ISIS extremist militant group whom stormed the country and took control over one third of Iraqi territories.

"The KRG is to be blamed because a number of social figures and tribe chiefs took over the lands and the government can hold them accountable overlooking their position and rank and to compensate the Christians," Jamal says.

Jamal have not denied their hopelessness of any serious steps by the KRG. Complaints were filed to US Department of State, International Criminal Court in the Hague and other international role players.

"It has turned tasteless. This is a source of shame and embarrassment for the reputation of the Kurdistan region and the KRG, the first role player in this issue."

The Kurdish parliament confirms the allegations by the war-torn community.

Abdul-Sitar Majid, head of agriculture parliamentary committee, said they have filed complaints about these violations in several occasions.

"I have complaints from some Christians of Ainkawa. Only one company took over 450 donums and no one can stop it," Majid said.

The Pacifist community looks to retain its rights back via the judiciary.

"We want at least court rulings to be practiced because the lands in Akry are our properties per real estate registry and court verdict but they deny leaving and returning it to us," the Bishop Michael said.

The current committee of the KRG has received 55 cases of seizure of properties for Christians in Duhok, said Clara Odisho Jacob, member of Kurdistan parliament from the Chaldo-Syriac-Assyrian bloc.

"A court verdict and financial and an amount of money as compensation can sort out the issue. We do believe in cabinet nine of the KRG to solve the issue."

"A court verdict and financial and an amount of money as compensation can sort out the issue. We do believe in cabinet nine of the KRG to solve the issue."

A senior Christian figure in Ainkawa told KirkukNow lately 750 donums for Christians was taken over by the board of investment and was given to someone for a project. "We have filed our rejection to the council of ministers because we want to make use of it."

KirkukNow has been waiting over a week for the comments of the KRG spokesperson Jutiar Adel who finally accepted the questions via his secretary yet have not responded up today despite frequent promises.  

Aydin Ma'rouf, KRG minister of the region for affairs of the components (minorities) is member in the new committee in charge of trespass over properties for the Christians.

"The committee is practically working on the issue which is a guarantee to solve the issue."

Ma'rouf said currently they are receiving the complaints and the next stage is audit and follow up and finally a lawful solution.

"There is no time limit to put an end to the issue of lands for the Christians but we assure our Christian brothers this issue will be solved."

It is not only the Christians who complain of serious will to terminate their suffering, even the Kurdish parliament is doubtful of the governmental efforts.

Safin Agha, member of the regional parliament, the bloc of Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP which leads KRG's ninth cabinet, confirmed Ainkawa issue for which they addressed the council of ministers to return to the Christian owners.

"I do personally, not my bloc, believe Ainkawa case can't be solved easily because an influential person plans to build a big project over the land," Agha said.

"The committee formed is a routine procedure and have no power while such a case requires a very strong will."

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