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WikiLeaks: 2009-06-01: 09BAGHDAD1426: Minorities Find Security in Kurdistan But Emigration Continues

by WikiLeaks. 09BAGHDAD1426: June 01, 2009.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 07:52 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD1426 2009-06-01 05:49 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #1426/01 1520549
P 010549Z JUN 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 001426 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/23/2019 
REF: 08 BAGHDAD 3198 
Classified By: Acting Political Counselor John Fox for reason 1.4 (d). 
1. (C) Christian and Sabean-Mandean leaders based in the 
Kurdistan region report that the flow of internally displaced 
persons (IDPs) into their communities from the rest of Iraq 
has decreased to a trickle -- an indicator, they believe, 
that sectarian violence targeting minorities throughout Iraq 
has declined.  These minority leaders also note that the 
post-2003 influx of IDPs has swollen the size of their 
communities in the Kurdistan region.  They point out that 
these greater numbers, combined with poor Kurdish language 
skills, minimal economic opportunities, and a perception of 
societal discrimination, have convinced many minority IDPs 
that emigration abroad remains their best option, despite the 
greater security and religious freedom that they enjoy in the 
Kurdistan region.  End summary. 
The KRG: Safehaven for Minorities 
2. (SBU) Since the onset of sectarian violence in 2003, the 
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been a safe-haven for 
Iraq's Christian and Sabean-Mandean communities, affording 
them greater security and religious freedom than elsewhere in 
Iraq.  POLOFF traveled to the Kurdistan region for three days 
to meet with political and religious leaders representing a 
wide range of Iraqi minority communities living in the 
Kurdistan region, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians, 
Evangelicals, and Sabean-Mandeans.  These leaders unanimously 
report that the northward flow of IDPs from their communities 
in Baghdad and Basra has dramatically decreased.  They 
attribute this to the stabilization of security in the rest 
of Iraq.  However, they note that past migration has resulted 
in large population increases for minority communities living 
in the Kurdistan region. 
3. (C) Bishop Matran Raban, who heads the Chaldean Church in 
Erbil, estimated that the total number of Christians living 
in the Kurdistan region had gone from 28,000 in 1991 to more 
than 150,000 today.  He told POLOFF on May 18 that the number 
of Christians living in the predominately Christian 
neighborhood of Ankawa in the capital city of Erbil had 
expanded five-fold, from 5,000 to 25,000.  In a meeting on 
May 19, Father Isah Dawood Philip of the Assyrian Church told 
POLOFF that 3,000-4,000 Assyrian Christians had moved to the 
Kurdistan region since 2003, expanding their total numbers to 
15,000, while leaders of the Armenian community reported that 
there are now 400 Armenians living in Erbil, 90% of whom are 
originally from Baghdad. 
4. (C) Minority community leaders were unanimous that, in 
addition to enjoying stable security, they suffered no overt 
interference in the practice of their religion within the 
Kurdistan region.  Bishop Raban provided photos of a 
religious procession he had led on May 15 involving thousands 
of Christians in the village of Aladdin to celebrate the 
festival of Sultana Mahdoct, for which the Kurdish peshmerga 
forces had been instrumental in providing security.  Father 
Ghasan Yousif Audish of the Evangelical Church reported that, 
despite past problems with the more established Chaldean and 
Assyrian Churches, the evangelical community was allowed to 
conduct its services in peace.  Father Ghasan even reported 
that a handful of Iraqi Muslims had sought refuge at his 
church and converted to Christianity.  Father Ghasan 
complained that the KRG had not yet officially registered the 
evangelical church despite his efforts over the past year and 
Qevangelical church despite his efforts over the past year and 
a half, a step that would allow them to officially conduct 
weddings and baptisms. (Comment: The government's delay in 
registration may be related to the unease expressed by the 
mainline Christian churches at proselytizing. End comment.) 
Salman Sada, the Vice President of the Sabean-Mandean Culture 
Society, even praised KRG President Masoud Barzani for his 
awareness and sensitivity to the issues facing their 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
Security a Necessary, but Not Sufficient Reason to Stay 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
5. (C) Despite the recognition on the part of Christian and 
Sabean-Mandean communities that they are the beneficiaries of 
a more secure and tolerant environment, minority leaders 
commented that many in their communities are still seeking to 
emigrate rather than return to their homes in Baghdad or 
remain in the Kurdistan region.  For example, Salman Sada 
BAGHDAD 00001426  002 OF 003 
reported that the Sabean-Mandean community in the Kurdistan 
region had at one point reached 300 families, but that 200 
had subsequently left Iraq.  When asked if he too would like 
to leave Iraq, Salman replied that he would "be the first to 
go" and that the leadership of the Sabean-Mandean community 
was no longer encouraging members to relocate to the 
Kurdistan region, but rather to go abroad.  Likewise, Boghos 
Kurkjian, a local Armenian leader, noted that despite being 
in the Kurdistan region for two years, the 400-strong 
Armenian community had not decided whether to build an 
Armenian Church to service the community because they had not 
decided whether to remain in Erbil or emigrate for economic 
reasons.  Chaldean and Assyrian leaders noted that members of 
their communities (especially young people) were actively 
seeking better economic opportunities abroad as well. 
6. (C) When asked if any in their communities were seeking a 
return to their homes in Baghdad or elsewhere, minority 
leaders responded that the numbers were very small.  Chaldean 
Bishop Raban noted that perhaps 20 families that had lived in 
the Ankawa neighborhood had chosen to return, but that those 
who attempted to go back faced renewed threats of violence in 
their old neighborhoods.  Boghos Kurkjian indicated that he 
and others within the Armenian community had sold their homes 
and businesses and thus had nothing to return to in Baghdad. 
Salman Sada described how a car bomb had destroyed his 
Baghdad home.  (Note: According to Iraqi National Police 
statistics obtained by the U.S. military, the total number of 
Christian returnees to Baghdad is 161 families as of February 
2009. End note.)  At the same time, minority leaders were 
equally adamant that while the relative peace and freedom in 
the Kurdistan region was a necessary factor to remain in the 
area, it was not a sufficient one for many in their 
7. (C) Christian and Sabean-Mandean leaders identified a 
combination of three factors that drove members of their 
community to leave the Kurdistan region for third countries. 
The first was that IDPs who fled from places like Baghdad and 
Basra lacked the Kurdish language skills that would allow 
them to function effectively in Kurdish society.  Salman Sada 
described how his son was beaten at school for failing to 
speak Kurdish in the classroom.  The second reason was that 
the Kurdistan region (where 60% of employment is in the 
public sector) lacked sufficient economic opportunities for 
the greatly expanded minority community.  Both Bishop Raban 
and Father Isah described well-intentioned KRG attempts to 
settle IDPs in over 100 reconstructed rural villages, only 
for the new residents to find themselves without the 
agricultural skills to make them economically viable.  (Note: 
With quick reaction funds (QRF), RRT Erbil has initiated a 
number of projects to assist minority IDPs in the Kurdistan 
region, including Kurdish language classes and small loans to 
entrepenuers.  End note.)  Finally, minority leaders 
complained that the increasing influence of Islam in Iraqi 
politics had left minorities feeling as though they were 
second-class citizens, even in the Kurdistan region.  For 
example, Bishop Raban complained that the Iraqi Constitution 
does not allow any law to conflict with Sharia and also that 
Iraqi children are automatically converted to Islam if one of 
their parents chooses to convert, a complaint that minority 
leaders in Baghdad, including the Minister of Human Rights 
Wijdan Salim, have also voiced in the past weeks. 
Division Over the Solution 
8. (C) Minority leaders in the Kurdistan region agree that 
the Government of Iraq is not sufficiently responsive to 
their concerns, but they were deeply divided on how best to 
address this challenge.  For example, Bishop Raban advocated 
greater Christian efforts to reintegrate themselves into 
Iraqi society, arguing that Christians and other minorities 
needed to stop isolating themselves from the wider community 
by demanding quota seats in Parliament and sealing themselves 
off in exclusively Christian neighborhoods.  At the same 
time, Raban believed that the Christian community needed to 
stop squabbling among itself and work to unite as a group, a 
point also made in a recent conversation with Chaldean Member 
of Parliament Ablahad Sawa.  On the other side of the 
spectrum, Dr. Saroud Maqdasy of the Assyrian Democratic Party 
(ADM) argued that quotas were integral to guaranteeing the 
political voice of minorities, and that minorities needed 
their own autonomous region distinct from the KRG as the only 
way for them to guarantee the viability of their communities. 
 Dr. Saroud stated that the ADM would refuse to unite with 
other Christian parties and would instead seek to be the only 
voice of the Assyrian people. 
BAGHDAD 00001426  003 OF 003 
9. (C) It is an encouraging sign that the flow of minority 
IDPs into the Kurdistan region has abated, even with the 
recent increase in violence in Baghdad during the month of 
April.  However, it is clear that many minority IDPs are in a 
holding pattern in the Kurdistan region, waiting for an 
opportunity to emigrate, primarily due to the cultural and 
economic challenges that they face.  While the KRG has openly 
welcomed minority IDPs from the rest of Iraq, it is not clear 
whether the Kurdistan economy will be able to sustain the 
thousands of non-Kurdish speaking newcomers.  RRT Erbil has 
made efforts to address some of the issues facing IDPs, but 
only sustained action on the part of the KRG and the 
Government of Iraq will convince minority communities to 
remain in Iraq.  Unfortunately, internal political conflicts 
within the minority community still seriously hamper their 
ability to mobilize for a common agenda to catalyze GOI 
action on minority concerns.  End comment. 


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