ANKAWA, Iraq – In an interview with Iraqi news satellite channel al-Sharqiya News, former Member of Iraqi Parliament and leader of the al-Warqaa Block Joseph Sliwa, called for the establishment of a self-governing entity for the native Suraye (Syriacs) in the Nineveh Plains.
In the al-Sharqiya interview on Friday, Sliwa stated, in the context of the upcoming visit of the leader of the Catholic Church Pope Francis to Iraq on March 5-8, that Syriacs in particular and citizens in general have lost confidence in the central Iraqi- and Kurdish regional authorities in Iraq.
The former Iraqi MP reiterated earlier statements that the Suraye-Syriacs (Arameans-Assyrians-Chaldeans), being the original inhabitants of the land, are being discriminated, disadvantaged, and targeted in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and in the territories under the Iraqi federal government. Self-government should hence be established for the Christian Suraye in the Nineveh Plain, so that they could represent, administer, and protect themselves within a national framework, all within the Iraqi constitution. Sliwa expressed his fear that both Iraqi authorities would try to take advantage of the Pope’s visit to Iraq to continue disadvantaging the Suraye-Syriac people and oppose their constitutional emancipation.
The leader of the Al-Warqaa Block had hoped and expected Pope Francis to directly sit down with Suraye-Syriac politicians to learn first-hand about their suffering, and personally speak and listen to the real Suraye representatives instead of KRG- and Iraqi-state affiliates.
Sliwa has been a long-time proponent of self-governance for the Suraye and attended the 2017 Brussels conference “A Future for Christians in Iraq” and he endorsed the final Position Paper which called for the creation of a Nineveh Plain Governate.
In the al-Sharqiya interview, Joseph Sliwa also said that the Iraqi people support Pope Francis March visit because of the important message it has for peaceful coexistence and rapprochement between religions. Sliwa however, expressed his disappointment that the Pope did not mention and would not visit the Simele area where in 1933 thousands of Suraye were massacred by the Iraqi army of the Kingdom of Iraq. The Simele massacre of 1933 is considered the first massacre in Iraq against the Suraye who have since been subjected to persecution and massacres on an ongoing basis.
According to Sliwa, Pope Francis, as a leader of peace, morals, and reconciliation, also neglects to give sufficient importance to past and present crimes and heinous massacres in Sinjar against Christians, Yazidis, and other indigenous components.
In a related context, former Iraqi MP Raed Ishaq Matti Daoud of the Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian Popular Council, participated in a dialogue session organized by the American Institute of Peace in Erbil, on the creation of administrative units in the Nineveh Plain, and in which also several clergy, activists, and local Suraye-Syriac officials in the Nineveh Plain participated.
The Suraye people in Iraq were among the first Arameans-Assyrians-Chaldeans to embrace Christianity. Before the toppling of Iraq’s Arab nationalist Ba’ath Party in 2003 and the unfortunately unsuccessful attempt by the United States to bring democracy to Iraq, there were an estimated 1.5 million Suraye in Iraq. This number has dwindled to an estimated 350-400 thousand today. The biggest Syriac churches in Iraq are the Syriac Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church. The number of Syriac Mandeans who once numbered 60-70 thousand in Iraq has dramatically decreased to lower than 5 thousand.
Article in Arabic