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Divisions Split Kirkuk Christians

Diaa al-Khalidi
As the fate of Kirkuk province continues to remain contentious and undetermined, Kirkuk’s Christians are often sidelined in the political debate. This, despite the fact that they are considered the fourth pillar of…
11.11.2008  |  Kirkuk

Even, however, as they try and assert themselves, internal-divisions continue to plague the Christian political community. Most notably, the Assyrian Democratic Movement which is the most powerful of the Assyrian Christian groups has allied with central government groups in opposition to the dominant Kurdish bloc which holds the support of smaller Christian groups.

Nor does the Assyrian Democratic Movement recognize Oraha and Boya, saying that they only attained their positions by joining the Kurdish Brotherhood List and that they were not elected by Christians who number an estimated 10,000 according to unofficial statistics conducted by churches.

“I can say that the majority of our people elected the Assyrian Democratic Movement, but despite this, we are not represented in the Kirkuk provincial council,” said Mazen Butros, a leading member of the Movement.

The Assyrian Democratic Movement entered previous local and general elections as an independent movement. While failing to secure any provincial seats, it did manage to win one parliamentary seat, occupied by Yonadam Kannah. Unlike other Christian parties, such as the Assyrian National Congress Party, the Bayt al-Nahrain Party and the Ittihad Nahrain Party, that have allied themselves with the Kurdish alliance, the Movement has linked itself with the central government.

So far as the fate of disputed territories and particularly the fate of Kirkuk is concerned, the three parties that joined the Kurdish list support annexation. These Christians say they see more hope of self-rule in Christian majority areas within the Kurdish region.

The Assyrian Democratic Movement, on the other hand, opposes the annexation of the province to the Kurdish region saying it fears Kurdish domination. Butros told Niqash that “there are Christian villages in Dahouk province whose lands have been seized by Kurds to build Kurdish houses and projects. This is clear evidence that the rights of Christians will not be protected in the Kurdish region.”

Despite their disunity on some issues, Christian parties have one common aim: unifying the three Christian ethnicities, the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs into one Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac ethnicity. They perceive themselves as victims of the divisive Arabization policy started by the Baath party in 1968 and they want to stand and be recognized as a united and independent ethnicity.

Moreover, they have been pushing larger Iraqi political parties to add an article into the provincial election law guaranteeing minorities, such as Christians, a fixed number of provincial council seats. All Christian parties in Kirkuk also opposed article 24 of the provincial council law allocating 32% of seats to each of the Kurds, the Arabs and the Turkmen, and only 4% for Christians. They demanded that power be shared equally between the four groups.

For Christians living in Kirkuk today, their demands seem to unite around a desire for recognition, even as their political representation remains divided.

“Since hundreds of years people have agreed to live together” said Yousef Muluki, a Christian government employee. “We do not aspire to more than the political acknowledgement of our existence and for representation rights that express our real weight.”

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