نظمت منظمة إغاثة الكنيسة المتألمة العالمية Aide to the Church in need مؤتمرا دوليا عقد في الجامعة اللاتيرانية بروما حول "العودة الى الجذور" Return to the roots حضره الكردينال بيترو بارولين، سكرتير دولة الفاتيكان والكردينال مورو بياجينزا، الرئيس العام للمنظمة، والسفير الفاتيكاني في العراق والأردن المطران البيرتو اورتيغا مارتن، والعديد من السفراء والمهتمين بشؤون مسيحيي الشرق فضلا عن مديري مكاتب المنظمة في الاتحاد الأوروبي وامريكا، والوفد العراقي المكون من غبطة ابينا البطريرك مار لويس روفائيل ساكو والمطارنة: مار يوحنا بطرس موشي ومار نيقوديمس داود شرف ومار تيموثاوس موسى شماني والابوين: سالارار بوداغ وجورج جحولا والسيد ستيفن راشي Stephen Rasche المستشار القانوني لابرشية أربيل الكلدانية، وفي الجلسة الصباحية تناول الكلام كل من الكردينالين: بياجينزا وبارولين ثم البطريرك ساكو (ادناه مداخلته بالانكليزية) والسفير البابوي اورتيغا، والأب هاليمبا مسؤول المنظمة للشرق الأوسط والسيد ستيفان راشي. وبعد الظهر كانت شهادات حياة للابوين سالار وجورج والسيدين زيد عامر ونور كنا من سهل نينوى الجنوبي.
وبعد الجلسة الأولى كان ثمة مؤتمر صحفي شارك فيه البطريرك ساكو والسفير البابوي وأدارة المسؤول الإعلامي للمنظمة.. كما التقى غبطته على هامش المؤتمر بسفير إيطاليا لدى الفاتيكان ومعاونيه وسفير أمريكا ومعاونته.
Christians in Iraq… Heading to where?
First, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all those who have helped us (Iraqi Christians) to survive such a tragic situation. My thanks go especially to the Aid to Church in Need, a worldwide Catholic organization, for their support, concern and for showing truly solidarity.
Iraqi Christians along with the Iraqi minorities have received in June and August 2014 almost a fatal blow at the heart of their lives and existence, when more than one hundred and twenty thousand (120,000) Christians were forced to flee from their houses in Mosul and Nineveh Plain towns under brutal attack. Their lifetime possessions, valuables and documents were looted and their houses seized or burned. Therefore, our number in Iraq has declined recently from 1.5 million people to less than 500,000. Our Christian Faith was the real reason behind this kind of discrimination and hatred of Radical Muslims persecutors to Christians, which have pushed them further to wipe away our heritage, destroy our homes and even to remove us from the memory of Iraqi history. This is “genocide” by all means.
II. Current Situation
Currently, Nineveh plain has been released from ISIS. However, administratively is divided into two parts: southern; Telkef, Bartella, Karamlees and Qaraqosh are ruled by the (ICG)Iraqi army and Al-Hashd Al-Sha’by( popular military mobilization Shiite while northern : Teleskuf, Baqofa, Batnaya, Bashiqa and Bahzani are ruled by (KRG) (Peshmarga).
The Church is leading a fund-raising with the help of catholic agencies and some European countries to restore houses and assist the returning families of Nineveh plain to settle. It is worth mentioning here that $2,000,000.00 grant, donated by the Knights of Columbus has helped in returning 120 Chaldean families to Karamlees; and another $2,000,000.00 US dollars donated by the Government of Hungary have supported the return of 1,000 Chaldean families to Teleskof and Baqofa as well as 1,669,954.53 € from the Aid to Church in Need to the return of Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean families to Qaraqosh(500 families) and Bartulla.
Through the ongoing efforts of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, the restoration of Nineveh Plain towns will continue to include Bashiqa and Bahzani (towns of Yazidese). It is actually our duty to reconstruct the houses of Christians, since their presence in these areas is as important as maintaining witnesses of Gospel values, otherwise, they will leave the country.
Despite these signs of hope, there is still much of uncertainty and danger that threats the region. Especially, the referendum of Kurdistan, toward independence from Baghdad, which is creating an escalation of tension between the two governments and we can almost hear the beats of war drums.
We must clarify: if there will be a new military conflict in Iraq, the consequences will be a disaster for everyone, Christians and minorities will once again pay the highest price. We Christians are not able to proclaim our rights with the governments of either side (Baghdad or Erbil), since the political and militia parties, who claim representing Christians are very far from the actual concerns of the local Christian communities. Therefore, such confrontation will certainly result in another exodus of Christians from their homeland.
Our People are concerned about stability, security and worried about going back to live with daily crimes of robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of Christians that has become so common. Vanishing Christians from Iraq due to their faith means losing an irreplaceable, indigenous and peaceful component of Iraqi society.
III. How to Help Christian Communities from Extinction?
In general, Iraqi Christians need well-defined support and strong action to save them and help them return to their towns, homes and jobs. We urge those in charge to be seriously open-minded. Especially United States of America to bear a moral responsibility of what is happening in Iraq and the Region, to “diagnose” the reality, and put things in their proper place considering the following points:
1. Educational support.
The mentality, culture is still tribal.. what we experienced during years, are: war after war, violence, taking revenge, killing and destroying.. We need to be trained to live in peace, harmony and respecting life, nevertheless our religion or ethnicity. These points are projects and cannot be imposed and achieved by force. Americans after the collapse of the old regime, spoke about freedom, democracy and prosperity where are they concretely?
2. Political Support
The International community, especially United States should be genuinely committed to work with the Iraqi government for the stabilization of the country and promoting reconciliation. This requires supporting the efforts for establishing a strong state with a civic, democratic and modern constitution assuring a full citizenship for ALL CITIZENS. The separation of religion from the state is necessary for the future of a harmonic coexistence. We need political, economic and cultural Marshal Plan to have stability.
3.Security and Stabilization of Liberated Areas.
A quick stabilization of the areas liberated from ISIS (Da'esh) is essential to facilitate the rapid return of the many internally displaced families and ensure long-term protection especially in the Nineveh Plain. So security is the priority and such assistance should include restoration of their houses, schools, churches, dispensaries and basic services (water, electricity, roads, etc). Compensation should be paid for damages and properties that were seized or destroyed. Firm legal guarantees are important for Christians to have self-administration as well as government participation in areas where they are majority. This project could be the key for reconciliation, rebuilding trust and for a durable stability in Iraq, knowing that the Iraqi government has no money to do that because of the war and the ongoing corruption.
4. Humanitarian Assistance
It is very important to continue assisting the displaced families with food and medical care. Another crucial issue is to provide employment opportunities for a generation who is suffering from disappointment and fears about future needs in order to ensure a decent life for their families.
5. Defeating Fundamentalism & Terrorism
All those concerned must understand that the military victory over the ISIS jihadists does not mean all of the problems have been solved because “extreme” Islamic ideology presents a fundamental problem and risk for all. Therefore, it is urgent for all who are concerned to work together for dismantling and eradicating the extremists’ widespread ideology. The vital solution is to prepare new and adequate educational programs to adjust the process of teaching and learning toward the requirements of modern times, which suits the life of people and achieve their good purposes without affecting their fundamental doctrine and moral values. This message should be part of a sustained information campaign to educate people about the “errors” in the ideas of ISIS and its related ideologies. Muslims should up to date the religion to the modern society, otherwise there will no future as Church did.
In conclusion, we need your assistance and support to maintain our hope for a promising future. We, Iraqi Christians love our land, where our root traces back to thousands of years and we want to stay and contribute in the reconstruction of our country. Christians also have not only problems and sufferings; they have a mission in Iraq. We want to “remain faithful" to Christ. We understand faith as a journey into the light that can "point the way”. It is like a lamp that burns and turns into a joy, that brightens our night. With this faith we can overcome fears by daily prayers while we are “awaiting our blessed hope" (Titus2/13).
Thank you and God bless you all.