Kurdish officials in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq have been proudly saying for years how safe and progressive their region is. To a certain extent, especially when compared to the rest of Iraq, that was true.
But that all came to an abrupt end last week. That is when Kurdish Islamists-incited and fueled by a mosque preacher-came out after Friday prayers and burnt and destroyed various Assyrian liquor stores, hotels and massage parlors owned by people from other minorities in the region. The rioters and saboteurs apparently did this to show their displeasure with things that go against their religion despite the fact that these businesses were licensed and operating legally.
The legend that Assyrians were safe in the Kurdish part of Iraq is now, well, a legend from the past. The attackers have vowed to repeat their attacks again with a more extensive target list this time, possibly including churches too.
Assyrians may have been physically safe from any terrorist risks in the north, but politically, they were as oppressed as they had ever been. Unless of course you pay your allegiance to the ruling Kurdish parties, then you are free (by local standards)
Following these attacks, Assyrians have become neither politically nor physically safe. The damages sustained in less than 24 hours is well over 5 million dollars. The destruction sustained, including to a cultural club, is a reversal of years of progress made by Assyrians in the region.
While the government, headed by Barazani, has stated that they will form a committee to investigate these crimes, few have much hope that much will be done. The security forces were very slow to respond-much later after the acts had been performed-they did take better positions to ensure these things don’t happen again next Friday.
While Assyrians living in Baghdad are mostly under a physical threat, Assyrians in the north now have a political as well as a physical threat to deal with. And when we say physical, it includes both property as well as bodily harm since these rioters will go the extreme to achieve their religious obligations.
Which brings us to the next and very important question: if they are safe nowhere in Iraq, where should they go? although hundreds of thousands of Assyrians have already left, the ones remaining either can’t leave or don’t want to leave. Nineveh Plain anyone? this is an area in the province of Nineveh, just south of Dohuk, where various Assyrian parties and politicians have been lobbying to turn into an Assyrian province and safe-heaven. Make no mistake about it, with every act of terror and adversity faced by our people in Iraq, increases the chance of making the ‘Nineveh Plain’ as an Assyrian province, a reality.
Would our people be safer in Nineveh Plain? compared to the rest of Iraq, and although it wouldn’t be completely terror and problem free, it would be a big improvement. Our people already live there and make up close to a majority in various villages in the region so they are familiar with the land and its demographics. This familiarity and majority will help Assyrians manage it better and keep it as safe as possible.
Creating an Assyrian province and safe heaven for the Assyrian Christian population doesn’t mean separation or isolation from the rest of Iraq. Assyrians will still have their active representatives in the central federal government as well as to the Kurdish region to the north. It simply means a better way to manage, protect and help the Assyrian community prosper within one united Iraq.