By National Catholic Register
July 15, 2017
In the very land from which Christianity was born, the Faithful have
suffered terrible, unspeakable oppression, blatant discrimination,
torture and holy martyrdom at the hands of those who reject peace and
Now, that the failed "ISIL" is in rapid retreat, having
unleashed untold suffering on the region and deaths over the past
three-years, plans are in the work to keep the remainder of Christians
in the region safe from more unsolicited, gratuitous violence.
A high-level European Parliament meeting in Brussels, entitled "A
Future for Christians in Iraq" discussed the possibility of offering the
remnant of Christians who have withstood one of the worst threats to
the Faith's existence since its inception.
Representatives of the
Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac Christian political parties produced a
position paper which outlines their desire to establish self-governance.
January 21, 2014, the Iraq Council of Ministers approved a plan to
establish three new provinces in Iraq. One province would be in
Fallujah, in central Iraq; a second would be in north Iraq, in Tuz
Khormato; the third would also be in north Iraq, in the Nineveh Plain.
This last region would be a safe haven for persecuted minorities
A few months after this meeting, Islamic
terrorist organization "ISIS" invaded Mosul, Iraq's second largest city
claiming it as the capital of their new capital in the misguided attempt
at reviving a "caliphate" which had been disbanded in the early part of
the 20th century by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), the President and Founder
of the modern Turkish state. Atatürk is also known for engineering
and/or encouraging the Armenian Genocide which slaughtered two million
Christians, including a great number of Catholics. Historians label this
attack as the 20th century's first genocide and served as the
inspiration for the Shoah.
A few weeks after this fateful meeting,
the Nineveh Plain, which that had the largest population of
Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs, was also invaded. ISIS had threatened to
completely eradicate Christianity in Iraq, as well as other religious
and ethnic minorities such as Yazidis, Shabaks and Turkmens. The Iraqi
army and the Kurdish Peshmerga abandoned the Nineveh Plain. Hundreds of
thousands fled the area, which was completely emptied in just a few
days. Others were kidnapped. Children, both boys and girls, were sold as
sex slaves. Elderly Christians, non-combatants, children, pregnant
women were raped, enslaved, forced to apostatize and mercilessly
slaughtered in the name of a religion of peace while the secularists of
the world looked on with apathetic bemusement. Admittedly, many
governments around the world, including the European, British and U.S.
Congress, have acknowledged that the persecution fulfills the UN
resolution criteria for genocide.
Charlie Weimers, chief of staff
for Member of the European Parliament Lars Adaktusson, a Swedish
representative, organized the recent event. He also led an expliratiory
committee to some recently liberated towns and villages of the Nineveh
Plain the delegation drove back to Ankawa, outside Erbil, to meet
representatives from political parties of Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs
"They supported the resolution which had passed in the
European Parliament and they asked us to host an international
conference to highlight the plight of victims of genocide," explained
Weimers. "They all signed a letter; all the ten major Christian
A week prior to the conference, the Assyrian Democratic
Movement along with two other political parties along with two churches
pulled out of the conference. The parties' organizers were accused of
promulgating a "Kurdish agenda" and hoping to get "the Nineveh Plain
annexed to the Kurdistan region of Iraq". The accusations were based on a
draft of the policy position paper.
The overwhelming majority of
the attendees to the conference wholeheartedly agreed that the only
viable solution for Christians in the region was a self-governing
province. They referred to the Iraqi constitution and the right to
establish a region in the Nineveh plain with their own police force,
security force, healthcare and education and justice system.
Kurdish regional government's representative Hoshyar Siwaily, who also
heads the foreign relations office of the Kurdish Democratic Party
(KDP), said in his speech that it's entirely up the people to decide
whether they want to join KRG or self-govern within Iraq.
announced in his final presentation said, "Today, ISIS was declared
defeated by the Iraqi government. This adds to this historical moment."
the political parties present at the conference signed the policy
position paper, Iraqi representatives invited Adaktusson to visit
Baghdad in the fall and thanked him for having succeeded in making them
cooperate and amend their final demands for the Nineveh Plain. They also
voiced their mutual concern for those political parties which had
pulled out of the conference hoping they will cooperate at a future
Representative of the Iraqi Government and the European Delegation for Iraq were both present at this conference.
Weimers, chief of staff for Member of the European Parliament Lars
Adaktusson and a recent convert to Catholicism, spoke to the Register
about the hopeful impact of this recent conference:
What is the state of reality for Middle Eastern Christians?
is a very harsh reality for most of the Christians of the Middle East.
In some cases, they find themselves stuck in the middle of conflicts
between more powerful actors. This together with the persecution by
islamist groups such as ISIS, the Nusra Front and Al-Qaida poses a grave
if not existential threat. In Iraq, the amount of
Chaldeans/Syriacs/Assyrians (Christians) has decreased from 1.5 million
in 2003 to approximately 300,000 today.
What was your initial involvement with the process of assisting Middle Eastern Christians?
attended Holy Mass at Syriac-Catholic cathedral in Baghdeda (Qarakosh)
in the Nineveh plain directly after it was liberated from ISIS. I was
close to tears when I saw the destruction of the church, it was burned
and I recall seeing statues being used as target practice for ISIS
fighters. They had decapitated statues, torn out eyes of angels and
saints. It was horrible.
How did it get so bad for the Christians of the Middle East?
fulfilled their ideology that for a decade tried to eradicate both the
religious and the ethnic existence of the Assyrian/Chaldeans/Syriacs.
Churches and monasteries were destroyed along with ancient Assyrian and
Babylon cities in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. They also destroyed
Muslim (both Sunni and Shia) mosques and Yazidi temples. A full scale
genocide took place.
What is the solution that your discussion group is considering?
background is that the European Parliament last fall decided to support
self-governance for Chaldeans/Syriacs/Assyrians and other nationalities
of the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq. Ever since, we (the office of
Lars Adaktusson MEP together with our partners) have been working
together to support Iraqi Christian political parties and NGOs to
establish an own roadmap for reconstruction, security and
self-governance. Let me emphasize that this is far more than a
discussion group. This is a serious political effort backed by the
largest European political party (the EPP) as well as Members of
European Parliament from all major political groups and major NGO's in
the field. I should also add that in the US, there have also been
efforts for self-governance such as the resolution on a "Nineveh Plain
Province", tabled by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) with support
from The Philos Project, In Defense of Christians and the Institute for
How does one go about such a monumental task?
a conference in Brussels hosted by Lars Adaktusson MEP together with
co-hosts from all major European party groups, a majority of the Iraqi
Christian parties negotiated a position paper that spells out how they
themselves can contribute to the realization of the Iraqi government's
decision of 21 January 2014 to make the Nineveh Plain a
province/governorate. They stand ready to form an interim council and
the NGOs have documented and put a price tag on the destruction of
private property and business of all inhabitants of the area.
How do you propose implementing your plans?
position paper, which can be downloaded from www.nineveh.eu, signed by
the seven Iraqi Christian political parties present in Brussels is in
strict accordance with the Iraqi constitution. The constitution is
federalist, and there is a legal path for Nineveh Plains to not only
become a province/governorate, something that already has been promised
by the Iraqi government, but also to become a region would the
population want it. The Iraqi ambassador to the EU Dr. Jawad al-Hindawy,
who was present at the conference on request by Prime Minister
Al-Abadi, stressed during his speech the federalism of the constitution,
and that de-centralization could go even further than establishing a
province/governorate. The EU and the US could play a positive role in
terms of pushing for equal treatment of all nationalities of Iraq,
enabling a dialogue between stakeholders in northern Iraq as well as
capacity support for local administrations and financial support for
What was the general mood among the participants in the conference you organized?
conference ended with a standing ovations for the representatives who
signed the policy position paper. These are those people who helped to
implement the request for an international conference, the governments
which supported it and Parliamentarian Adaktusson. The political parties
also made it clear that they "don't want a Berlin wall in the Nineveh
Plain" meaning that the parties who have signed will not accept the
region to be split between Baghdad and Erbil. Admittedly, Fawzi Hariri,
the personal representative of Iraqui president Barzani, KRG, opposed
the press release that was read. He claimed that he was disappointed
with it since KRG wasn't specifically thanked saying, "The Iraqi
government will not do anything for you, so yes we are disappointed with
the wording. If you are willing to make a statement and thanking the
Iraqi government you should also thank the Kurdistan regional
What are the considerations of infrastructure, including a self-defense force for the proposed new province?
order to avoid any confusion, it is important to stress that the Iraqi
constitution provides for the establishment of geographical (not
ethno-religious) provinces/governorates, which could be compared with US
counties. All nationalities of the Nineveh Plain, such as
Chaldeans/Syriacs/Assyrians, Armenians, Yazidis, Kaka'i, Shabaks and
others would thus be part of a local self-governance. The higher level
is the establishment of a region, which could be compared with a US
state. A region has the constitutional responsibility for police,
security forces, and guards of the region, which would make it possible
for the nationalities of the Nineveh Plain to organize self-defense
within the framework of the Iraqi army. Please allow me to clarify that
for the US audience the word 'state' means something else than for the
Iraqi audience. Nowhere the signed position paper advocates for a new
country. It asks for a new governorate/province in Iraq with the
possibility to evolve to a region, all as defined in the Iraqi
constitution. Actually before the ISIS invasion the Iraqi Government
already made the decision to create such a Nineveh Plain
What is the involvement of the native
Christians who would be the first beneficiaries of such a new province,
in the discussions for such a proposed new entity?
paper that states the demands for a Nineveh Plain Governorate and later a
region is the product of seven of the Iraqi Christian political
parties. We have been merely facilitators to ensure that their demands
are heard and understood by the EU and US.
What problems do you hope such a new structure would solve or at least address?
IDPs and refugees have moved back to some of the Christian villages, it
is also clear that many want security guarantees in order to take their
families back to their homeland. I believe that many would be more
encouraged to return if security could be provided for the people by the
people of Nineveh Plain, within the framework of the Iraqi
What is the proposed size of the population for such a new province?
administrative and geographic basis should be based upon the 1957
general census. This is actually also defined in the Iraqi constitution.
The position paper does not create new borders, it refers to the
existing districts in Nineveh Plain. I assume that the first and major
group of inhabitants will be the people driven away by ISIS and who want
Is there any consideration as to a name for this proposed region?
"Nineveh Plain Region" is the name used in the position paper of the political parties.
there United Nations support for such a venture? Are there other
international organizations such as NATO, EU or others that have
expressed an interest in supporting such a project? Have there been any
naysayers such as OPEC or the Arab League? Have there been any response
from Islamic terrorist groups?
The position paper is so recent
that formal reactions from the bodies and groups mentioned above are yet
to be seen. From our side, we will support this position paper by
trying to gather as big an international coalition as possible in
support for this. We believe that we as friends of the people of the
Nineveh Plain need to push both for urgent financial support for
reconstruction and a long term solution that secures equal rights for
all nationalities of Iraq.
What can US Catholics and other Christians do to help this venture?
is one major thing US Catholics and other Christians can do. They can
stand up and demand that the US Administration will initiate a donors'
conference for post-war relief and reconstruction for groups who the
President himself has labeled as victims of genocide. Time is running
out as Christian families are leaving Iraq every week. Moreover, they
can urge the US to finally cooperate directly with a united body of the
existing security forces of the Chaldean/Syriac/Assyrians of Nineveh
Plain such as the NPU, NPF, NPGF and Dwekh Nawsa. We really need to
stand up that the US ensures that these people get the security they
need and trust. If we don't stand up for their security as a fundamental
human right we fail to support them as they will not feel safe enough
for the rebuilding and return. The position paper precisely outlines how
this security cooperation could be realized.
Do you have any anecdotes as to the process by which this proposal has come about?
thing I will I think never forget is how we entered the recently
liberated areas in Nineveh Plain and were part of the first Holy Mass
led by the Syriac-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Yohanna Petros Mouche.
For me to receive Communion in that desecrated yet re-consecrated
cathedral of Qaraqosh was one of the most impressive experiences of my
life and keeps me motivated to help this plan become a reality.