News / Middle East

Religious Minorities Find Sanctuary in Kurdistan

Religious Minorities Find Sanctuary in Kurdistani
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 08, 2014 9:21 PM
Religious minorities are fleeing their homes in northern Iraq to escape Islamic State militants, who are singling them out. Tens of thousands of Christians and members of the Yazidi sect have headed into Kurdistan. Two years ago, Henry Ridgwell went to Kurdistan for VOA and filed this report on how the region had become a welcome refuge for Iraq's religious minority groups.
Religious Minorities Find Sanctuary in Kurdistan
Henry Ridgwell

Religious minorities are fleeing their homes in northern Iraq to escape Islamic State militants, who are singling them out. Tens of thousands of Christians and members of the Yazidi sect have headed into Kurdistan.

But many are trapped in a mountainous region, with no food and water. The United States has begun airstrikes against the Islamic State fighters, and air drops of food and water.

Two years ago, journalist Henry Ridgwell visited Kurdistan and found that it had become a refuge for religious and ethnic minorities who had long suffered persecution and violence.

There he found that some religious minorities -- most with ancient roots -- say their numbers are now increasing thanks to improving stability and legislation to protect minority rights.

Yazidi worshippers

In the valley of Lalesh, Yazidi worshippers visited their shrine deep in the mountains of Kurdistan. In the cool dusk, a temple priest lit hundreds of candles across the complex, illuminating the ancient buildings and their striking conical stone roofs.

At some point in life, every follower of the Yazidi faith is supposed to make a pilgrimage here.

Long stigmatized as "devil worshippers" by their Muslim and Christian neighbors, Iraq’s half-million strong Yazidi minority suffered some of the worst sectarian attacks after the fall of President Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Now under the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, the pilgrims are returning. The Yazidis have their own minister in government.

“Before we were not free to pray and could not visit here easily," said Lokman Suleiman, a Yazidi teacher. "Now we can. The Kurdistan government is not only good for us, it is good for all people. The sun now rises over a Kurdistan of many colors, free and proud.”

Christian revival

Like the Yazidis, Iraqi Christians were targeted by Sunni and Shi'ite militants after the U.S. military ousted Saddam Hussein.

Down in the heat of Irbil city, Father Aesha Dawoud leads an Assyrian church in a suburb of the Kurdistan capital.

“Now our churches and our holy places are honored and respected by the people who live around us,” said Father Aesha. “In celebration and in peace, people come here. The people of this city guard our places of worship.”

There were tens of thousands of Christians living in cities like Baghdad and Basra in southern Iraq. The majority have fled - some overseas, many to Kurdistan.

Father Aesha said his congregation would support an independent Kurdish state.

“If the situation is like now, if they don’t change things for us, then yes we would support the Kurds,” he said.

Many Christians have settled in the town of Ainkawa outside Irbil.

Ragat Hana Yousef moved to Ainkawa from Baghdad after his liquor store there was bombed in 2005.

"Kurdistan is different from the rest of Iraq because now everyone is free to speak," he said. "There is more democracy and what’s most important, it is safe.”

Nearby, a Kurdish barber -- who gave only his first name, Mohamed -- said the people in Kurdistan should unite with the Kurds who now control a large part of Syria.

“It is better for one people to live in one house, not be divided in two,” he said.

 

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: michael from: Nigeria
August 09, 2014 1:53 AM
incredible kurds keep it up the world is wacthing you all christian pray for you you are extra ordinary

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More