The announcement was made by Prime Minister Barzani during a visit to the region. The decision was formalized after the Iraqi parliamentary elections on October 10.
Ankawa, the Christian suburb of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, which in the past hosted thousands of Christian families who fled from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain due to the rise of the Islamic State (IS) is now an administrative district for all intents and purposes.
The move was announced by Masrour Barzani, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister of Northern Iraq, during a visit to the region on October 4.
This is an important recognition, greeted by the Archbishop of the Kurdish capital: “this is an important decision,” declared Msgr. Bashar Matti Warda, and “a strategic move to maintain the local Christian presence” in the region and to invest in its community.
The decision to increase the degree of autonomy and representation of what was once a Christian suburb is shared by the Kurdistan Interior Ministry, the governor of Erbil and the local provincial council.
Under this new status, Ankawa comes under the “administrative control” of its Christian residents, most of whom fled persecution from Iraq’s Nineveh plain, and Syria, and will become “the largest Christian district in the Middle East.”
From sub-district to full-fledged district, residents will be able to elect officials and representatives, their own administrators, and be in charge of security and, unlike in the past, benefit from a mayor with “direct authority.”
For Kurdistan's top officials, who had already opened their doors to Christians in the past during the rise of Isis, the goal is to show the international community that the region is safe for Christians (and non-Christians), thus attracting investments and economic development opportunities.
During his visit, Mr. Barzani spoke of Ankawa as a home for “social and religious coexistence” and a “place for peace.” It has become a center “for many of our Christian brothers and sisters who have not been able to stay in other places and regions of Iraq for whatever reason,” he continued.
This news was greeted with joy and satisfaction by the residents themselves, who used social media to stress that in Iraqi Kurdistan “ethnic and religious groups have the full rights as ptjer citizens…with respect and full freedom.”
The formalization of the decision to grant administrative autonomy to Ankawa, home to several churches and a Catholic university, as well as a seminary, was formalized after Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for October 10.
The Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil recalled how Christians in the past have often been “collateral damage” of decades of sectarian violence. Their condition worsened with the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, but they “found in Ankawa a place for coexistence and economic and social prosperity.”
Bishop Warda renewed his appeal for Christians to stay in Iraq and Kurdistan: “We are trying,” said the prelate to Kurdistan24, “to implement many projects such as schools, universities, and hospitals.…Our confidence in the future of Kurdistan makes us encourage Christians not only to stay, but also to invest in this region.”
It is obviously a great satisfaction to see this welcome extended by Kurdistan to Iraqi Christians to allow them to remain in their country sanctified by the faith of their ancestors.