In a show of unity, leaders of 16 Christian political organizations are calling for a Christian province in Iraq.
“We do not have time on our side. We must decide now and move forward,” said Shmael Nano of the Assyrian Democratic Party. The leaders met over the weekend in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq.
Iraqi Christians have been prime targets of Muslim jihadi violence since the U.S.-backed liberation of Iraq in 2003.
Some 66 Christian churches have been fire-bombed over the past seven years. Thousands of Iraqi Christians have been kidnapped, hundreds have been killed, and nearly half of the estimated 1.5 million Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes, many of them into foreign exile.
The latest attack by Muslim extremists killed 58 Christian worshippers during a Sunday service at Baghdad’s Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic church on Oct. 31. See "Muslim Terrorists Murder 58 Iraqi Christians in Church."
“We need unity in our people, and I am happy to see major progress with all in one room agreeing in a spirit of brotherhood for the first time,” said Yonathan Betkolia, secretary general of the Assyrian Universal Alliance.
Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac groups in Iraq have squabbled over a variety of issues since 2003, including whether they should demand protection from Baghdad or the Kurds in Erbil.
“We need to put small issues aside and move forward with this momentum,” said Ablahad Afram, secretary general of the Chaldean Democratic Party.
The Christian groups got a huge boost from Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, who agreed with their demands to form a majority Christian provincial government in the Nineveh Plain, the historical homeland of Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Christians in Iraq.
Iraqi Christians “are free to organize a province or regional government. It should not be just because we have Kurdistan, but should be organized around an area. If they can do it in three provinces or even one it should and can be done,” Zebari told the conference in Erbil.
Zebari encouraged the Assyrian Christians to not only stay in the country, but to return from overseas and create a regional administrative government, according to Rev. Ken Joseph Jr., who runs the website AssyrianChristians.com.
In the United States, Iraqi Christian groups demonstrated in Chicago and in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, demanding that the U.S. government put pressure on Baghdad to protect Christian citizens of Iraq.
“In America, we fight for the right of free education, while my people fight for the right to be free of bombs while they are being educated,” Lawrence Mansour, director of the Ishtar Cultural Center of Sterling Heights, Michigan, told a rally in front of the White House on Saturday.
“Security is the first step to protecting the people of Iraq. But people are leaving Iraq not only because of a lack of security, but because of a failure of opportunity,” he said.
Article 125 of the Iraqi Constitution provides for the creation of a Christian province in Iraq and government funding to support it.
“The Iraq government in 2009 had a surplus of $52.6 billion. And yet, zero of that went into helping the indigenous people, the minorities of Iraq,” Mansour said.
“America has given the Kurds a chance. It has given the Sunnis a chance. It has given the Shias a chance. Isn’t it time it empowers people whose hearts lie in Iraq, the people who have had no funding from any outside country . . . whose power comes from love?” he added.
Many Christian leaders have opposed setting up a province based on religion, and instead want to ensure that the new government in the Nineveh Plain guarantees the freedom and security of all its citizens.
“We don’t want a province for Christians only,” said David Lazar, chairman of the American Mesopotamian Organization in California. “We want to live in peace and in partnership with different ethnic and religious components. We will show the rest of Iraq and the world that Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Assyrians and others can live together in peace and harmony once again.”
The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, of the Christian Defense Coalition, and Juliana Taimoorazy, of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, led a small crowd to the White House gates, where they deposed 58 carnations, one for each of the victims in the latest church massacre in Baghdad.
After the rally, Mahoney chaired a meeting along with Rev. Rob. Schenck, of Faith and Action, to discuss a plan of action for securing U.S. government support to help the Assyrians, Iraq's only indigenous people.
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