05/15/2008, 00.00
IRAQ

Pressures to annex northern Christian villages to Kurdistan

Reports, unconfirmed by political authorities, suggest Kurdish officials are getting Christian refugees in the Nineveh Plain to sign up for annexation to Kurdistan in exchange of monthly help. The initiative falls within a scheme never abandoned by the Erbil government to create a Christian safe heaven under its administration. However, the plan is raising concerns among the local population.

Mosul (AsiaNews) – People claiming to represent the Kurdish government are making the rounds of Christian villages in the Nineveh Plain, telling residents to sign forms approving the annexation of the territory to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. The ultimate goal is to create a predominantly Christian area under Kurdish administration, this according to reports published on Ankawa.com. The Webzine’s correspondent tried to collect more information about what so far have been sketchy accounts by local residents that have gone unconfirmed by political or religious leaders. But should it prove correct, the initiative is in line with a plan to create a safe haven for Iraqi Christians.

In an interview with AsiaNews about such reports, Mgr George Casmoussa, Syro-Catholic bishop of Mosul, capital of Nineveh province and one of the most dangerous cities in the country, chose not comment on “issues of a political nature” but stressed that “Christians only want to be free to live in their land, to remain in their country and exercise the rights that the national constitution guarantees for all Iraqi citizens.”

“Kurdisation” of the Nineveh Plain

According to Ankawa.com reports, officials from Kurdistan’s Christian affairs office, a satellite division of the Finance Ministry under the controversial Sarkis Aghajan, are getting internal refugees to sign forms in favour of the annexation of the northern section of the Nineveh Plain to Kurdistan in order to receive their monthly humanitarian assistance, reassuring them that it is all legal, respectful of democratic principles and in line with Art. 140 of the constitution which calls for a referendum to decide the “return” of Kirkuk and historically Kurdish provinces to the jurisdiction of the Kurdish government in Erbil. 

Some Christian migrants have complained however of “verbal pressure” exerted by Kurds against them. Mr Jevara, who arrived from Baghdad, said he was told that although signing was not compulsory those who did not would not get any assistance.

Others denounced the fact that Minister Aghajan’s economic largesse towards Christian villages was a trap to carry out the “Kurdisation” of the Nineveh Plain.

For some time politicised Christians in the United States and Europe—from those in the US Diaspora with influence in the Patriarchate in Baghdad to Evangelical Christians and Minister Aghajan—have been using the tragic religious persecution in Iraq to push for the creation of an “Assyrian” enclave on the Plain.

Whether at home or abroad few Catholics back this project. For many, it is a “diabolic and dangerous” plan that can only “sow divisions” among Christians. Chaldean priests and lay people in Europe want their Church to “take a clear stance” and for the Holy See to “make its voice heard” on the matter

The head of a local popular committee, Jamil Zeto, refused to answer Ankawa.com when it asked him to comment on the matter.

In a recent meeting in Alkosh the Kurdish Democratic Party denied claims that there was a campaign to put pressure on them or force people to sign. It did however reiterate its desire to see the creation of an autonomous zone within Kurdistan where everyone could live in peace.

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