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WikiLeaks: 2008-05-20: 08BAGHDAD1564: RRT Erbil: Influential KRG Minister Eyes Autonomous Zone for Christians

by WikiLeaks. 08BAGHDAD1564: May 20, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 01:15 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BAGHDAD1564 2008-05-20 15:35 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #1564/01 1411535
R 201535Z MAY 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 001564 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/20/2018 
Classified By: Deputy Political Counselor Greg D'Elia for reasons 1.4 ( 
This is an Erbil Regional Reconstruction Team message. 
1.  (C) Summary:  In a meeting May 6 with the Ambassador,s 
Senior Advisor and RRTOffs, KRG Minister of Finance Sarkis 
Aghajan (Sarkis) provided maps outlining the proposed zone, 
and said a decision must be made &now8 to save Iraq,s 
Christians.  Since 2003, up to 40,000 Iraqi Christians have 
fled to Kurdish-controlled areas to find sanctuary and 
assistance.  In addition to supporting Christian IDPs, Sarkis 
has financed the re-building of several Christian villages in 
the KRG, and believes an autonomous Christian zone will save 
Iraqi Christians from extinction.  KRG Prime Minister 
Nechirvan Barzani is close to Sarkis, and voiced tentative 
support for a Christian autonomous zone.  The future of 
Iraq,s Christians may become part of political negotiations 
and potential future referendum to resolve northern boundary 
disputes.  End Summary. 
Special treatment for Christians in the KRG 
2.  (SBU) Several thousand members of religious minority 
groups have found sanctuary in the Kurdistan Region since 
2003, including approximately 30,000 to 40,000 Christian 
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), according to church 
authorities.  Upon arrival, Christians received housing and a 
monthly stipend from the KRG; that stipend ended last year, 
as most families have managed to integrate into society. 
While RRTOff discussions with Christian IDPs suggest that 
they feel the KRG offers safe haven, they have voiced concern 
about the lack of employment opportunities, the loss of their 
livelihoods, and inadequate housing.   Long-term Christian 
residents feel safe but also complain about unequal access to 
schools and discrimination in property disputes with Kurds. 
KRG,s Christian Champion:  Sarkis Aghajan 
3.  (C) KRG Minister of Finance and Economy, Sarkis Aghajan 
Mamandou (Sarkis), is the most influential KRG and Kurdistan 
Democratic Party (KDP) official directly involved in 
protecting Christians.  Sarkis is close to KRG Prime Minister 
Barzani; they fled to Iran in 1975 and went to school 
together.  Sarkis had contemplated becoming a priest but 
instead joined the peshmerga there in 1979 at Massoud 
Barzani,s request.  In August 2006, Sarkis was awarded the 
Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, one 
of the highest and most widely recognized pontifical orders, 
by Pope Benedict XVI to honor his work with the Christian 
community in Iraq.  Sarkis has remarked in meetings with 
RRTOffs that he receives his direction from the Holy Spirit, 
and has said that Nechirvan Barzani has been sent by Jesus 
Christ to save Iraq,s Christians.  Sarkis set up committees, 
in partnership with local churches, which allocated aid to 
Christian IDPs in Kurdish controlled areas.  He has also used 
KRG funds to re-build 110 Christian villages, totaling 
approximately 10,000 houses, in Dohuk and Ninewa Provinces. 
Autonomous zone will save Iraqi Christians &from extinction8 
--------------------------------- -------------------------- 
4.  (C) In a meeting May 6 with the Ambassador,s Senior 
Advisor and RRTOffs, Sarkis described the eradication of 
Iraqi Christians, has been going on for 2,000 years.  He said 
Iraqi Christians are now in danger of extinction, with only 
560,000 Christians remaining in Iraq, down from the estimated 
1.2 ) 1.5 million before 2003.  Sarkis said he is dedicated 
to doing all in his power to save the remaining Christians, 
and that the key is an autonomous zone.   Such a zone could 
be within or outside of the KRG, Sarkis said, but if a 
referendum were to be held, the people would choose for the 
zone to be within the KRG.  The region would have its own 
parliament, cabinet, budget, and national anthem, Sarkis 
explained, and would protect historical Christian lands. 
Although some Christians would naturally live outside of the 
area, they would still be affiliated with the region, and 
have the right to study in their language and establish their 
own curriculum at schools around Iraq.  An autonomous region 
would give Christians hope for the future, and provide 
international legitimacy. 
Sarkis, maps, and re-taking Christian villages 
--------------------------------------------- - 
5.  (C) Sarkis rolled out several maps to detail his planned 
Christian autonomous zone.  He provided Senior Advisor with 
BAGHDAD 00001564  002 OF 003 
maps highlighting three proposed zones, referring to the map 
with a smallest proposed Christian area as &the hopeless 
map.8  The most ambitious map outlines a ribbon of territory 
that starts at Karakesh, Ninewa Province, runs along the 
eastern edge of Mosul Lake, then folds east until reaching 
Deraluk, in Dohuk Province.  Sarkis said that Kurds and other 
ethnic groups would also be included in the zone, but that of 
course all would be treated equally.  He then added that he 
tells Arabs that this Christian enclave could also serve as a 
buffer zone to prevent further southward encroachment by 
6.  (C) Sarkis claimed that PM Barzani said he would be 
willing to use force to move the remaining Kurds out of 
Christian ancestral lands, but that Sarkis had counseled 
against it.  The key to success is peaceful resolution of the 
land disputes, Sarkis explained, so as to ensure goodwill 
between Kurds and Christians.  He noted that before moving 
Kurds out of the villages, he first finds out whether 
original Christians would return, then he works out a 
settlement.  He is not willing to get land back for people 
who are already living in Sweden, he said, and are just 
looking to sell, as that would encourage further Kurdish 
encroachment.  He highlighted his success in a small triangle 
of land near the Syrian border, saying 5,000 Christians had 
re-settled there. 
7.  (C) Nechirvan also voiced his concerns for Iraqi 
Christians, telling Senior Advisor May 6 that a solution must 
be found to protect Christians, and that he had specifically 
raised protection for Christians with de Mistura.  He noted 
that if Awakening Councils are becoming part of the Iraqi 
security forces, then why not Christians, who are also 
protecting their communities?  Nechirvan said he personally 
supports Christians having an autonomous state, with their 
own assembly and police. 
Sarkis:  GOI will not protect Christians 
8.  (C) During the March visit of the U.S. Commission on 
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Sarkis told the 
Commissioners that problems in Ninewa have been provoked by 
the Government of Iraq (GOI), as it continually tries to 
shift village demographics.  Sarkis said that during Prime 
Minister Allawi,s tenure, Allawi attempted to re-distribute 
4,000 properties to Muslims living in Christian areas.  He 
also said current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki issued 
a similar order in 2007; however, both efforts were thwarted. 
  He also told the Commissioners that the Ninewa Plains are 
as sacred to Christians as Israel is to Jews, and warned that 
Christian villages will disappear within 20 years if the 
current situation continues.  Sarkis also noted that although 
the Government of Iraq &talks sweetly8 about minority 
rights, he believes the GOI will stop pretending to protect 
Christians once Coalition Forces withdraw.  He said that 
while the conflict between Shia and Sunna is a power 
struggle, attacks against Christian are religious 
persecution, motivated by extremists determined to 
exterminate Christians in Iraq. 
Intra-Christian Rivalries:  Assyrian Democratic Movement vs. 
9.  (C) Rival factions split the Iraqi Christian community, 
potentially adding an additional, complex layer to future 
political compromises on boundary decisions.  The Assyrian 
Democratic Movement, a prominent Christian political party, 
is a thorn in Sarkis, side.  In a meeting May 3 with Sarkis, 
RRT Deputy Team Leader (DTL) brought up an e-mail sent to him 
by Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM) member and GOI 
ex-Minister Pascale Warda.  (Note:  Warda told DTL in a 
meeting April 23 that Sarkis was using aid to Christians to 
push KDP,s agenda, increase KDP membership, and further 
Kurdish encroachment onto Christian lands. End Note.)  In the 
e-mail Warda decried Sarkis and the KRG for failing to 
reconstruct Berfilka, an ancestral Christian village in Dohuk 
Province.  Sarkis immediately went on the offensive, replying 
that every Christian village has been re-built by the KRG 
except Berfilka, and ADM,s political maneuvering was to 
blame for Berfilka,s situation.  Sarkis then railed against 
Warda, ADM Secretary General Yonadem Kanna, and other ADM 
members for failing to support the Christian community, and 
sarcastically asked what DTL has done for Christians in Iraq. 
 He accused her of ¬ helping one Christian8 during her 
tenure as Minster of Migration, despite several official KRG 
BAGHDAD 00001564  003 OF 003 
requests for assistance. 
10.  (C) Calls for an autonomous Christian zone are likely to 
increase and could complicate the resolution of northern 
boundary disputes.  Sarkis may push for a referendum to 
establish a Christian autonomous zone as a follow-on to 
decisions on new boundaries.  Sarkis has political enemies in 
the Christian community and his aspirations for Christian 
autonomy seem quixotic.  His ability to dole out patronage 
and his close relationship with Nechirvan Barzani, however, 
give his views real weight.  End Comment. 


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