08/05/2015, 00.00
IRAQ
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For Kurdish bishop, Turkish airplanes are a new threat for the Christians who fled the Islamic State

Mgr Rabban al Qas, bishop of Duhok, said that Turkish fighter jets are “starting to cause fear”. Their bombs have caused damage and casualties. Fear is fuelling a desire “to escape”. Still, refugees from the Nineveh Plain are rebuilding their lives, with a house and a job. This weekend, 50 children in the diocese will receive the first communion.

Duhok (AsiaNews) – Turkey's air strikes against PKK positions in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan "are starting to cause fear." They have certainly caused "deaths, injuries and destruction" and the region is living in "a new situation of danger,” said Mgr Rabban al-Qas, bishop of Duhok (Iraqi Kurdistan), in the homonymous governorate on the border with Turkey and Syria.

In this area, hundreds of thousands of Christians found refuge after they fled the Nineveh Plain in the wake of the invasion by Islamic State forces. Many families found shelter in Duhok, a region close to the bombings. As a result of this, many Christians want to escape.

“At night, from the village of Komane, we can see Turkish planes bomb the Kurdish mountains, where PKK fighters are hiding. Villagers and Christian refugees are scared.”

Overnight on 6-7 August of last year, hundreds of thousands of people left the overwhelmingly Christian villages in Nineveh Plain, from Qaraqosh to Karameles, and found refuge in Erbil and other areas of Kurdistan.

Last week, the Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Mar Louis Sako addressed a prayer to Pope Francis and the world’s bishops, urging them to remember the tragedy of this persecuted community. In it, he pleaded for peace and security, "before it is too late" and the strength to “stand fast in this violent storm."

For Bishop al-Qas, “direct international pressure on Ankara” is needed to stop “bombing our region,” especially since the Turks left their borders open to Daesh* to move fighters and supplies.

Even the President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad have told Turkey to stop military operations on Iraqi territory and respect the country’s borders. However, "Turkish airplanes seem unwilling to comply."

At the same time, Barzani ordered PKK fighters to leave the region, because "if they want war, they can do it on the other side of the border".

Meanwhile, the life of some Christian refugee families is slowly getting back to normal, said the prelate. “Many have found work; others have opened their own businesses. Through the help provided by various associations, people are also setting up working groups. Catholic groups play a leading role, providing material support and technical assistance, knowledge, and experience."

Unlike some groups and organisations that encourage Christians to move overseas (via Jordan and Lebanon), and thus "make money exploiting their situation, fears and concerns, friendly words and concrete support help us a lot, especially in terms of planning for the future,” the bishop said.

Indeed, the community’s liveliness and strong faith despite hardships are exemplified by the “50 and more children who will receive their first communion next week, not to mention the baptisms, weddings, and confirmations . . .”

Many families that fled Mosul and the Nineveh Plain of a year ago "have found some stability in Ankawa and Duhok,” the bishop said. “Some have bought a house and are rebuilding their lives because they have come to realise that they are not going home to their villages anytime soon, and are determined to stay here in Kurdistan."  (DS)

* In Arabic, the Islamist group is known as ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām, leading to the acronym Da'ish, Da'eesh, or DAESH. In English, it is known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or more simply as the Islamic State (IS) group.

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