The creation of the “largest Christian district in the Middle East” was warmly welcomed by a local bishop who sees development as essential to securing the future of the Church in the country.
Syriac Catholic Archbishop Nathaniel Nizar Semaan of Adiabene told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he was “delighted” that the Kurdish government in northern Iraq is making the suburbs of Erbil of Ankawa an administrative district in its own right.
The announcement by Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdish regional government, will mean that the people of Ankawa – home to 60,000 Christians – will have the power to elect civilian leaders such as a mayor, as well as powers in matters of security and social assistance.
Until now, Ankawa, which is 80% Christian, has been a sub-district of Erbil.
Thanking the KRG for “making this gesture,” Archbishop Semaan, who is based in Ankawa, told ACN: “The decision to make Ankawa a separate district will, we hope, be an important step forward for us. both for the region and for the future of Christianity in Iraq. “
Ankawa’s Christian population grew dramatically overnight in August 2014, after as many as 120,000 worshipers fled as a result of ISIS’s (IS) invasion of the nearby plains of Nineveh. Although many returned after the military defeat of Daesh, many Christians remained in Ankawa.
Prime Minister Barzani’s announcement this week that “Ankawa will be the largest Christian district in the Middle East” came shortly after meeting with Archbishop Semaan and other bishops, including the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop. Bashar Warda d’Erbil and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf.
The bishops presented Mr. Barzani with a written request to grant what Archbishop Semaan called “special status” to Ankawa due to its increased population. Stressing that district status would not turn Ankawa into a Christian ghetto, Archbishop Semaan spoke of the area being part of a “triangle” of Christian centers comprising the towns of Qaraqosh and Alqosh, both located in the Nineveh Plains. .
He added: “Ankawa becoming a separate district will help us to witness our faith to all of Iraq, showing that there are still Christians here. We are not inviting the people of Nineveh to come and live here. [in Ankawa] but if they want to come, they are welcome. It is better if they come to Ankawa than to leave Iraq. “
Welcoming the decision to make Ankawa a district, Nadine Maenza, president of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said: “directly shape their destiny.”
ACN has prioritized helping Christians in northern Iraq, providing emergency aid in the aftermath of the Daesh invasion, rebuilding homes and churches, and now supporting university students and medical care in the region of Erbil as well as pastoral care in Kurdistan and Nineveh.
Aid to the Church in Need – www.acnuk.org
Key words: Iraq, Ankawa, Bishop Nathaniel Nizar Semaan, Aid to the Church in Need, ACN, John Pontifex
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