Briefing by the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, High Representative to the United Kingdom Karwan J. Tahir on Religious Freedom in the Kurdistan Region

The Kurdistan Region is home to considerable religious and ethnic diversity. The Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs works to protect and preserve the political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights of the minorities. The Kurdistan Region has provided a safe haven for refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP) of many faiths from Iraq, including individuals fleeing broad religious persecutions across the wider region.

 In 2015, the Kurdistan Parliament passed “The Minority Rights Law”, which lays out the fundamental rights, including the freedoms of thought, religion, speech, and culture. The law, which unequivocally grants rights and religious freedoms to all, mandates the KRG to guarantee equality for all component groups of the region, while requiring that religious discrimination be punished. This law was passed by the Kurdistan parliament at a time when the religious and ethnic minorities were subjected to discrimination and killing in the wider region under the hand of evil death cult’ of ISIS.

There are seven major religious components in the Kurdistan Region, including Muslims, Christians, Yezidi, Jews, Sabie Mandani, Zoroastrians and Bahais. The KRG policy is outwardly favourable to religious freedom in the region. Senior religious leaders are frequently consulted by ministers and government officials. Clauses in the draft constitution and passages in laws written by the Kurdistan Parliament explicitly defend freedom of worship and other minority rights. There are 11 seats in the Kurdistan Parliament assigned to parties representing minority groups in the Kurdistan Region. Five seats are allocated to Turkmen representatives, five to Chaldean, Assyrian, and Syriac representatives, and one to the Armenian community.

The KRG has allocated lands and built three churches and cultural centre at its own expenses for the Christian community:

  • 1 Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in Ankawa, Erbil
  • 1 Assyrian Church, Erbil
  • 1 Armenian Orthodox Church, Erbil
  • Assyrian Cultural Centre in Ankawa, Erbil

Further, there are 135 different churches and 92 religious shrines in the region. The KRG has granted permission to some Anglican churches in Kurdistan to build their own churches. The Kurdistan Region also holds public holidays on all religious occasions.

The situation of minorities in Iraq after Daesh

  • 11 churches from the East side and 26 churches from the West side of the city of Mosul were destroyed
  • 16 churches in Qaraqush area were also damaged
  • Approximately 250 Christians have gone missing, (82 women and 162 men)
  • More than 3500 Christian families fled the violence and found sanctuary in the Kurdistan Region .

The recent Humanitarian Situational Report by the Joint Crisis Coordination Centre (JCC) of the Kurdistan Regional Government states that there are 698,902 IDPs residing in the Kurdistan Region, approximately 7% of the IDPs are Christians. In 2020, the total arrival of IDPs were 953 families and 3,124 individuals. Around 54% of the IDPs were from the Nineveh Province.