Kurdistan: Christian suburb of Ankawa becomes a district with full powers

Prime Minister Barzani made the announcement during a visit to the area. The decision will be implemented following next Sunday’s Iraqi parliamentary elections. For Archbishop Warda, this is an "important" decision, a “strategic" move to maintain the local Christian presence. For the leaders of the autonomous region, it is a way to attract foreign investments.

Erbil (AsiaNews) – Ankawa, the Christian suburb of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, has been designated a district. In the past it welcomed thousands of Christian families who fled from Mosul and the Nineveh plain following the rise of the Islamic State group.

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani made the announcement on Monday during a visit to the area.

Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil welcomed this major recognition. It is a “very important decision for Ankawa,” said the prelate, a "strategic" move to maintain the Christian presence in the region and an incentive for Christians to remain and invest in their community.

The decision to increase the degree of autonomy and representativeness of what was just once a (Christian) suburb is shared by the Kurdistan Interior Ministry, the governor of Erbil and the local provincial council.

With the new status, Ankawa passes under the "administrative control" of its Christian residents, most of whom fled persecution from Iraq’s Nineveh plain and Syria, and will become "the biggest district of Christians in the Middle East."

From sub-district to full-fledged district, residents will be able to elect officials and representatives, run their administrators, be in charge of security and benefit, unlike the past, from a mayor with "direct authority".

For Kurdish leaders, who took in Christians during the rise of the Islamic State, the goal is to show the international community that the region is safe for Christians (and non-Christians), thus attracting investments and opportunities for economic development.

During his visit, Barzani described Ankawa as a home for “religious and social coexistence and a place for peace”, a centre “for many of our Christian brothers and sisters who have not been able to stay in other places and regions of Iraq for whatever reason.”

Residents welcomed the news with joy and satisfaction, using social media to underline how “ethnic & religious groups in KR have full rights as other citizens [. . .] with respect & full freedom," wrote one Twitter user.

The decision to formally grant administrative autonomy to Ankawa, where several churches and a Catholic university are located, as well as a seminary, will take place after the Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for next Sunday.

The Chaldean archbishop of Erbil noted how often Christians have been “collateral damage” of decades of sectarian violence.

Their condition worsened with the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, but they “found in Ankawa a place for coexistence and economic and social prosperity”.

In light of the good news, Archbishop Warda renewed his appeal for Christians to stay in Iraq and Kurdistan. “We are trying to implement many projects such as schools, universities, and hospitals," he told Kurdistan24.

“Our confidence in the future of Kurdistan makes us encourage Christians not only to stay but also to invest in this region.”