OPINION – How to Get Christians to Stay

ANALYSIS: For Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, the goal now is ‘not just surviving; it’s thriving’ in their ancestral home

National Catholic Register | Edward Pentin | 053018

ERBIL, Iraq — Nearly a year since Mosul was liberated from the Islamic State and the terrorist organization effectively defeated, new challenges confront the relatively few Christians remaining in the ancient Christian towns of northern Iraq who feel let down by the United States and continually ignored by the West.

“ISIS was a trial we had to face,” said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. “Now we have another one: how to really help Christians to stay.”

For the archbishop, the goal now is “not just surviving; it’s thriving.” And to do this, he believes, not only are jobs needed, but also “sustainable projects,” ones that give Christians a chance to showcase their talents and qualifications, “a chance to witness.”

In the once densely Christian populated Nineveh Plains to the north and east of Mosul, the challenges are similar, though each situation is different and largely contingent on which civil authorities are in charge. More than 90,000 Christians lived in the region before ISIS; that number has decreased to less than just under 40,000.

In Qaraqosh, once a prosperous, predominantly Christian town a few miles east of Mosul, security is no longer just about protection from Islamic terrorists, but rather about guarantees of survival in the face of a depleted population. (So far, just over 25,000 Christians have returned — less than half of the original Christian population — and only over a quarter of the properties damaged by ISIS have been restored.)

“Demographic change is a very sore point for us,” said Syriac Catholic Father Amar Yako, the town’s parish priest. He therefore wants to see Qaraqosh’s Christians carving out a future that is both sustainable and economically viable to encourage them to stay.