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Nineveh's Assyrians Are Vanishing, Lack Basic Services: Church Leaders

Christians are vanishing from the Nineveh plains, according to church leaders in the provincial towns of Bahzani and Bashiqa, and Baghdad's failure to provide services means those who fled the ISIS onslaught of 2014 are unlikely to return.

"We had approximately 400 Assyrian Christian families in Bahzani. About 40 percent to 45 percent left Iraq altogether. About 160 families have returned," Fram al-Khouri, a pastor from Bahzani, told Rudaw.

Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria By ISIS and Other Muslim Groups

"The people got tired of Iraq's circumstances," he said.

Successive wars, international sanctions, and the arrival of ISIS have all contributed to the migration of Iraq's Christians to Jordan, Canada, the US, Europe, Turkey, and other places.

"The Christian human no longer has a clear vision of what will become of Iraq in the future. If the people know there will be security, stability, and that everything will return to what it used to be, I am sure even the ones who left will return," Khouri said.

"Lately the phenomenon of sectarianism and such has appeared. These are reasons to worry," he added.

Baghdad continues to neglect the religious minorities of Nineveh, starving them of services. Khouri says despite all Iraq's riches, the community hasn't received even $1.

"I think there is no attention given because we are Christians and Yezidis," the pastor added.

Father Bolis Afrim, another church leader in Bashiqa, has seen a similar decline in the community. Around 40-50 percent of the town's 700 Christian families have migrated, he says. But he's optimistic about the security situation.

"I could say the areas of Bahzani and Bashiqa are the most stable right now because of families returning," Afrim told Rudaw.

Christian, Yezidi, and Shabak community representatives sent a letter to the federal government and the Nineveh provincial council this week opposing the plan to settle the Arab families in Bashiqa.

Afrim said they are not against the resettling of families displaced by war, but that the policy should not come at their expense. They hope to "preserve the special character of the area".

The minorities are also concerned by plans to resettle 450 Arab families in the area -- a process likened to Saddam Hussein's Arabization program. Communities fear this is now a process of "Shiitification".

Abdulrahim Shamari, a member of Nineveh provincial council, made the resettlement request to the Iraqi interior ministry. The interior minister has reportedly accepted the plan.

"We never accept this," Salim Shabak, an MP and member of the Shabak minority, told Rudaw. He said Shabaks, Yezidis, Kakais, Christians, and Turkmens are united in their opposition.

"Their aim is to bring 450 families, transfer their residency documents to Nineveh plain, and later they will come to buy houses and lands. Their bigger aim is to bring up to 2,000 families until the area is completely Arabized and a demographic change is carried out so there is no votes for Kurds in Nineveh plain," Shabak added.

Policies of demographic change are outlawed under the Iraqi constitution.

"These people are very vicious and helped ISIS," Shabak claimed. He fears the decision is a deliberate effort to undermine Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which covers the disputed territories between Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.

"Nineveh plain is part of Kurdistan [Region]. We never accept it from anyone to occupy our lands and threaten us," he said.

ISIS systematically targeted religious minorities, especially on the Nineveh plains, when it swept through the province in summer 2014. It committed genocide against the Kurdish Yezidi. Christians fled persecution.


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