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

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs