06/07/2007, 00.00
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The Plains of Niniveh, a trap for Iraqi Christians!

by Louis Sako*
On the eve of the meeting between the Pope and Bush, the Archbishop of Kirkuk analyses the risks of the project to assign Christians an autonomous region in the Plains of Niniveh, a solution already rejected by authoritative figures in the Vatican.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) - Christians will not be saved by closing them up in a ghetto.  Quite the contrary.  The plan for an autonomous Assyrian zone in Iraq, advanced by politicized circles in the country and abroad, only risks worsening the situation.  Furthermore, there is considerable resistance to the so-called “Nineveh Plains project,” among authoritative figures in the Vatican.  On the eve of the meeting between the Pope and U.S. President George W. Bush, a prominent figure in the Chaldean Church, the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Monsignor Louis Sako, explains in the following article the roots of the Assyrian utopia, as well as the risks that it entails, and sets out the way to deal, in a united fashion, with the problem of Christian persecution. 

The Plains of Nineveh contain a series of Christian villages (approximately twenty), in which most people speak the Syriac dialect known as “Sureth.”  The area has always been under the jurisdiction of Mosul – about 30-25 km away – which is the area’s cultural, commercial and ecclesiastic hub.  The Plains are surrounded by Arab, Shedac, Yezidi and Kurdish villages.  Some 120,000 Christians live there.

Having an independent zone has been something of a national dream for the Assyrians dating back to World War I; subsequently, in the 1970s, various Christian politicians and religious leaders called for an autonomous province, but this dream was never achieved!

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and, above all, in 2006, many Christian nationalists outside and within Iraq, having seen the experience of autonomous Kurdistan, see the Niniveh Plains as a possibility for achieving a safe haven.

Why Niniveh?  Niniveh is historically the capital of ancient Assyria.  The Arabs, in particular the Sunnis, are adamantly against to this solution, just as they are opposed to federalism or to a division of the country on an ethnic or confessional basis.  Several Christian media outlets are conducting a massive campaign to advance the idea that the Plains are the only hope for salvation.  And thus, problems increase: threats, kidnappings, attacks, killings…  The Kurds back this project, perhaps the U.S. too, given the experience in Yugoslavia and the plan for the new Middle East!

But Christians, whose presence in Iraq has been cut in half due to the forced exodus, must abandon this risky ghetto project.  As Christians, we must have a presence everywhere, to witness our identity among others.  Our Church has never been nationalist or closed in an ethnic sense; it instead has always embraced peoples and nations, achieving its apex in Mesopotamia, in the Arab Gulf countries and going even as far as China.

To ensure a better future in Iraq, we must:

1.                  work together, Christians of all rites and denominations, to unite our position and make our political considerations effective in the daily reality.  This means working for the reconciliation of Iraqis, collaborating with religious authorities and with parties.  Dialogue, reconciliation and encouraging a culture of peace: this is our mission today;

2.                  set out the facts on our historical role in the construction of Iraq, our willingness to live and collaborate with everyone for the unity of the country, refusing to be identified with the “invaders.”

3.                  work together as a unified group for amendments to the text of the Iraqi and Kurdish Constitution.

Lastly, the Christian diaspora and all Churches are invited to work not on propaganda but on concretely helping Christians who have emigrated to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and also to created institutions and jobs in the new villages of the north to give hope and a way to make a living to refugee families.


* Archbishop of Kirkuk

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