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President Nechirvan Barzani reaffirms unwavering support for the rights of Christians and all communities

President Nechirvan Barzani reaffirms unwavering support for the rights of Christians and all communities

Erbil, Kurdistan Region, May 27, 2024

President Nechirvan Barzani participated in the Personal Status Law Congress for Christians in Iraq, hosted by the Catholic University in Erbil. The President delivered a speech at the conference, which was attended by a large number of ministers, officials, academics and religious leaders.

The following is a readout of his speech.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Guests,

Good evening.

It is with great pleasure that I welcome all of you to Erbil, where we have gathered to engage in a discussion regarding the rights of one of our great religious communities, namely the Christians. By convening here today, we aim to provide a heightened sense of security for Christians in both the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. Our collective support for this congress stems from its objective to safeguard the legitimate rights of Christians through dialogue, legal frameworks, and constitutional measures across Iraq.

I express my gratitude to Bishop Bashar Warda, the Presidency of the Catholic University of Erbil, and the organizers for arranging this conference to address the significant matter of drafting the Christian Personal Status Law in Iraq. A warm welcome is extended to our Christian guests from Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. It is my hope that their valuable insights and experiences will enrich the discussions during this congress and that they will enjoy their time in Kurdistan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We consistently advocate for the rights and demands of Christians and all communities. Our support is rooted in the Kurdistan Region’s rich history of faith and culture, which promotes harmonious and equitable coexistence.

Our assistance is additionally connected to the Iraqi Constitution, which underwent a voting process and received the approval of the Iraqi people. According to Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution, individuals in Iraq possess the freedom to practice their personal status in accordance with their religion, sect, belief, and preference, subject to regulation by law.

The enforcement of that specific provision in the constitution is still pending. By adhering to this provision and establishing distinct personal status laws for various religions, including Christians, Yezidis, Sabians, Mandaeans, and other religious groups in Iraq, we can ensure the protection of their rights. This assembly marks a significant and tangible step forward as it lays the groundwork for discussions and the identification of suitable resolutions to address the needs and rights of Christians. We wholeheartedly support the constitutional requests of these groups as well as those of all other communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Christians are subjected to a legal system that does not align with their religious beliefs due to the absence of a dedicated personal status law for them. This situation has detrimental effects on families and the Christian community in Iraq. Numerous distressing cases, particularly regarding the well-being and rights of children, girls, and women, have been reported, especially in matters concerning inheritance, divorce, and coerced religious conversion when a Christian parent changes their faith.

We firmly hold the belief that individuals under the age of 18, raised within non-Christian religious environments, should not face coercion to convert. Thus, we advocate for granting these individuals the autonomy to choose their religious beliefs upon reaching adulthood, typically at the age of 18. Additionally, legislation concerning inheritance should be anchored in Christian principles.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In every aspect of personal status, it is imperative to find a resolution that aligns with the desires of Christians while upholding the values of coexistence and equal rights for all Iraqi communities. The law should not be used to sow discord or create difficulties within the Christian population. We firmly oppose any form of injustice or discrimination. Christians are constitutionally entitled to autonomy in their personal matters, rooted in their faith and religious convictions.

Therefore, I appeal to all stakeholders involved in shaping the Constitution of Iraq, including the various factions within the Iraqi parliament to approach this matter with the utmost seriousness and endeavor to find a prompt resolution. It is essential that they thoroughly consider the aspirations and entitlements of Christians and other religious communities. Moreover, I implore the judiciary to handle these cases with utmost compassion, recognizing the profound impact they have had on numerous families. The breakdown of relationships among parents, children, and relatives, combined with the lack of familial security, has forced many Christian families to seek refuge elsewhere and abandon their homes in Iraq.

I urge the Kurdistan Islamic Religious Scholars Union and all esteemed scholars and religious leaders in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq as a whole to assist in resolving the challenges encountered by Christians as a result of the erroneous understanding and application of Islamic laws. A fundamental principle of Islam is the prohibition of imposing religion on others through coercion. I am confident that you, the esteemed religious leaders of Islam, will serve as excellent partners, given your strong commitment to collaboration and the promotion of peaceful coexistence in Kurdistan.

I express my gratitude to the Kurdistan Islamic Religious Scholars Union for their valuable support in revising the Iraqi Personal Status Law in the Kurdistan Region, particularly in matters concerning inheritance. Furthermore, I extend my heartfelt tribute to the esteemed scholar and renowned educator, Dr. Mustafa Zalmi, as well as all the dedicated women’s rights advocates who actively contributed to this significant endeavor.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was raised in a region where religious temples coexisted harmoniously, with followers of various faiths living together in unity. Tragically, in 1983, a number of Assyrian Christians were brutally killed alongside the Barzanis during the Anfal campaigns. The courageous Christian Peshmergas, who played a vital role in the Kurdistan Revolution, became renowned throughout the nation for their bravery.

Throughout history, the people of Kurdistan have shared a common destiny, living together in harmony. Despite the numerous atrocities that have taken place in the region, Kurdistan has consistently been a bastion of ethnic and religious coexistence. The liberation movement in Kurdistan has always aimed to safeguard the rights of all the people of Kurdistan, not solely the Kurds themselves. Consequently, it is our unwavering duty and belief in the Kurdistan Region to protect the rights of all communities living within its borders.

During the inaugural session of the Kurdistan Parliament and the formation of the first cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government, special attention was given to the inclusion of Christians. It is our commitment to ensure the preservation of peace and stability in the family and social lives of all Christian citizens in the Kurdistan Region. Our aim is to enhance the involvement and collaboration of all communities within the region across various sectors. We advocate for genuine and equitable coexistence, firmly believing that equal rights for all are fundamental to the essence of coexistence.

It is emphasized that in order for the new Iraq to thrive and advance, it must embrace coexistence and the involvement of all communities in governing the nation by learning from history. Disregarding or suppressing any community will lead to the deterioration and downfall of the country, and it is imperative that no community in Iraq is marginalized.

I hope for your continued success at the congress. Be assured of our unwavering support, as Kurdistan is committed to being a nation that embraces diversity, promotes peaceful coexistence, and upholds tolerance towards all religions and ethnicities.

Thank you very much.

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