06/19/2007, 00.00
IRAQ

Nineveh Plains project to destroy dialogue, only path for peace

by Louis Sako*
Kirkuk’s Chaldean archbishop explains why he is against the plan to create a Christian “canton” on the Nineveh Plains. The area lacks the necessary infrastructure to host thousands of families and would deny Iraq its only way out, a culture of pluralism and dialogue. He appeals to local Church leaders to take a clear stance on the issue for the sake of the future of the country’s Christians.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – The ongoing persecution that strikes indiscriminately and with equal rage Sunnis, Shi’as and Christians, forcing them into exile, confirms that Iraq’s problem is not a clash of civilisations but  fundamentalism. Hence  dialogue is the only solution without any ideological and geographical barriers. As Iraqis Christians should be able to live side by side with their Muslim brothers and not in a distinct circumscribed area, this according to Mgr Louis Sako, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, who told AsiaNews why he opposes an Assyrian plan to set up an enclave in the Nineveh Plains for Iraq’s Christians.

I have recently read some criticisms about my article on a proposed Christian "Safe Haven" on the Nineveh Plains. This is why I want to make clear a few points. Lest we forget, there is a great gap between what may seem possible in theory from what can actually be done.

Let us be objective, realistic and prudent. The Nineveh plan is being manipulated. If today it  involves Iraq’s Christians; tomorrow it might be the turn of Egyptian and Lebanese Christians. Most of those who back this utopia live outside Iraq and don’t really know the internal situation.

With the arrival of new refugees in the north there would not be enough space. A village that once had 2,000 residents, now has a population of 3,000. Renting a room can cost US$ 200 a month. There are no jobs, schools, university; services are lacking . . . . Where could we put 30,000 people from Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk and Mosul?

Many Christians are used to living in smart houses and would not be able to cope with life in camps and under tents. It is unthinkable to compare the Nineveh Plains to Kurdistan! A Christian ghetto would mean endless violence like in Palestine and Israel.

I have met bishops, priests and party leaders in Iraq and most are against this project.

We Christians are a fundamental part of Iraq’s history and culture. We are a significant presence in the life of the country and feel completely Iraqi. Our identity was shaped and is being shaped within a history and tradition that is Christian. We have resisted threats and persecution in the course of our history and found ways to continue living in our land and bear witness to the Gospel. Ours is a martyr’s Church; that is its charisma”

The problem is not between Christians and Muslims—the problem is fundamentalism which excludes others, annihilates them for religious or ethnic reasons. The solution is to encourage a culture of pluralism, help people acknowledge one another as humans and recognise in each other an absolute value. We should accept others as brothers and work for a better society based on respect for fundamental rights. Creating closed “cantons” for Christians or other communities would be a catastrophe for our world.

If we want peace, wise and moderate Muslims as much as Christian leaders must help ordinary people become integrated into modern society. They must modernise their religious discourse taking into consideration present-day realities. By the same token, politics must respect the will of the people and their rights. There is no other solution.

* Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk

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See also
Iraqi Christians demonstrate, fast against killings and the Nineveh “ghetto”
01/03/2010
Ethnic cleansing first against Yazidis, soon against Christians
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Chaldean synod: the names of two new bishops leaked
06/06/2007
Kirkuk: Muslims and Christians united for dialogue, only way to save Iraq
11/06/2007
Kurdish guns threaten to bring a new humanitarian catastrophe to Iraqi minorities
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