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Kurdish Referendum Crisis Could Drive Assyrians Out, Church Leaders Warn
By Lorraine Caballero

The crisis sparked by the Kurdish independence referendum several days ago could put the presence of Christians in northern Iraq in danger, warned Catholic and Orthodox church leaders who also called on the international community for intervention.

The independence referendum that was held recently could lead the Kurdish Regional Government to secede from the central government in Baghdad. In light of this possibility, five senior Catholic and Orthodox bishops released a statement asking the international community to help maintain the presence of Christians in the Nineveh Plains, the Catholic Herald relayed.

The signatories of the statement were Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Chaldean bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiyah and Zaku, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Sharif of Mosul, Archbishop Apris Jounsen and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Timotheos Mousa of the Archdiocese of Mor Mattai Monastery.

"We cannot hide our concern that the situation for the Christians has become very difficult and leads to uncertainty," the church leaders said in a copy of the statement obtained by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. "It is a clear fact that this situation has created in Christians a state of fear and concern about the possibility that the struggle may develop into a crisis that will have far-reaching repercussions for all."

In light of their fears, the five church leaders said great care should be taken so that the Nineveh Plains would not be torn between Iraq and Kurdistan. They emphasized the suffering that the community has already experienced under the ongoing political and sectarian conflicts, saying another round of shakeup could lead to a new spate of mass exodus.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis spoke to Iraqi Catholic leaders on Oct. 5 and urged them not to be discouraged amidst the difficult task of helping Christians return to the Nineveh Plains after the defeat of the Islamic State. The pontiff called on these church leaders to be united in facing the challenges of Christianity's survival in Iraq, Crux reported.

Since the liberation of the Nineveh Plains from ISIS, many of the roughly 100,000 displaced Christians have tried to return home. ACN has launched a project called "Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Project" which has so far seen 17 percent of the Christian community make their way back to their homeland.


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