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Believers between despair and hope

Our 7th trip to Iraq in March 2020

The team from ojcos-foundation (from left to right): David Müller, Political advocate for religious freedom in Iraq; Rahel Rasmussen, Member of the Board of Trustees; Michael Wolf, Deputy Chairman.

Very good exchange with Sven Krauspe, the German Deputy Consul General in Erbil. He stressed that military and economic engagement from Germany continues to be important on the ground and is also strongly desired. Germany enjoys a high level of sympathy.

Abrs Youkhanna, Bishop of Erbil of Assyrian Church of the East, is very happy about our visit. The situation of Christians is still very different. While demands for legal equality are emphasized in Erbil, believers in the Nineveh Plains are often afraid for their lives.

“Preserving the church in Iraq is not renovating its buildings, but supporting the basic needs of the Christians!” Srood Maqdasy, former Christian member of the Kurdish Parliament, shows us clearly where the support of Christians in the country is very one-sided.

Seham Sarah and Mikhael Benjamin train young people to act as political advocates for minority concerns. A very good, long-term investment in the future that helps people to help themselves. We have a close partnership with them and look forward to further cooperation!

It is always good to meet with Lara Yousif Zara, the Christian mayor of Alqosh. She is very committed to giving people a perspective that they will stay in the country. Tourism is a good starting point. Although there is the tomb of the biblical prophet Nahum and monastery Rabban Hormizd, founded in the 7th century BC, there is neither a hotel nor a tourist guide in the city. This situation is currently changing – also due to German help!

It is a very special experience to visit Lalish with our friend Amer Seido, member of the Yazidi prince family. He gives us extraordinary insights into the most important sanctuary of the Yazidis. He regrets the emigration of his people very much, because the closeness to Lalish is not replaceable for the Yazidic life.

“Please don’t just invest in humanitarian aid, but empower local organizations to effectively shape our country’s future! Draw attention to us in politics and helps us to help ourselves!“, demands Emanuel Youkhana, Archdeacon and Head of the local relief organisation CAPNI.

Fuad Nowroz is the first Kakai that we meet. He explains the history of this religious minority, its oppression under Saddam Hussein and its persecution by ISIS. The fact that their main settlement areas are on the border with Iran does not make their situation easier.

The two archbishops of Mosul (above: Najeeb Michaeel Moussa, Chaldean Catholic Church; below: Nicodemus David Sharaf, Syrian Orthodox Church) greatly appreciate our commitment and regular visits to the country. They do not deny the reality of the people and the security situation in Mosul is still very bad. But they radiate faith, hope and future with great conviction.

Farouq Muhamad (3rd from right), judge and founder of the Anti-Corruption Chalang Organization, as well as other members of the organization seek contact with us. Together we realize that value-based education is an important factor for a good coexistence.

“The stability in the region is the most important thing for everyone.” Hoshyar Siwaily, Head of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, is very grateful for the German commitment. The Kurdish Regional Government still needs this to stop the exodus, strengthen public administration and train the army.

In spite of Corona special sessions, it is important and possible for our Christian friends in Iraqi politics to meet with us: Ano Abdoka (2nd from left), Minister of Transport and Communications of the Kurdish Regional Government; Hoshyar Yalda (3rd from right), Member of the Iraqi Parliament and Janan Jabar Boya (2nd from right), Member of the Kurdish Regional Parliament. They are very concerned about the situation in the Nineveh Plains. An end to the influence of the militias and a secure territory for minorities are the most important political tasks here, they said. They see themselves as a natural part of the region: “What we receive here is not a gift, but a right. We have fought and suffered together with the Kurds.” But they are very realistic: “We must deal with what we have, not with what we had! Before (in the Assyrian Empire) we had military strength. Today we need Alliances.”

Impressive conclusion of our trip is a meeting at the Kurdish Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs. Khalid Jamal Alber (2nd from right), General Director of Christian Affairs, and Mariwan Naqshbandi (far left), Researcher in religious freedom and social peace, strongly confirmed the importance of our commitment to religious freedom. They give us an insight into the efforts of the Kurdish Regional Government on this issue and wish to continue working closely with us.

In the center of Erbil in front of the citadel from the 5th millennium BC, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, it is clear to us: We will continue to work for Christians, Yazidis and religious minorities in Iraq to have a perspective for a reconciled life in dignity and security. And we will come back!

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