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

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea 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 Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs