Iraq’s Kurdish minority is offering homes to refugee Christians who have been driven out of southern Iraq and Baghdad by Islamist extremists.
Aboout 30 million Kurds inhabit a region historically known as Kurdistan which crosses the borders of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. About 4 million of Iraq’s 34 million citizens are Kurds.
Targeted by Saddam Hussein, who used chemical warfare to kill entire villages, Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed semi-autonomy since the first Gulf war in 1991. Now the predominant Kurdish political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is offering homes to Christian refugees who will move into one of those villages, according to the British-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
Refugees are being offered plots of land as well as $10,000 per family to settle in the village of Se Ganian, whose population was murdered by poison gas during Saddam’s campaign against the Kurds.
In the last decade, more than 200,000 Iraqi Christians have left Iraq after such incidents as the October 2010 attack on a packed Baghdad church — which killed more than 60 men, women and children.
Only about 200,000 Chaldean Christians remain in Iraq, according to Louis Sago, archbishop of the Chaldean Orthodox Church in Kirkuk, who says 12,000 have settled in the Kirkuk area.
Mohammad Ameen, a political analyst and a professor at Kirkuk University, discounted the initiative “a political move to get more votes.” The oil-rich, multi-ethnic Kirkuk area is debating whether to vote to become part of the Kurdistan political area within Iraq. The Kurds are predominantly Muslim.
Kurdish spokesman Ghafoor Salih Sameen said his party would do all that was required to safeguard Iraq’s Christians and halt their exodus. “This is not the first time the [Kurdish party] has supported the Christians, considering them a part of our history,” he said. “We are working hard to serve Kirkuk residents in general and the Christians in particular as they are an important part of the identity of Kirkuk.”