09.07. 2014 Iraq, Syria and the ISIS: The situation and prospects for Christians in the region

In the view of the rapidly declining situation in Iraq the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need invited to Brussels a delegation from this country headed by His Beatitude Louis Raphaël Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church. Patriarch Sako who was accompanied with Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul, and Bishop Youssif Mirkis of Kirkuk met this morning the Members of the European Parliament.

Members of the European Parliament are deeply concerned about the fast unravelling of the situation in Northern Iraq, the region where most Iraqi Christians have lived uninterruptedly for over 1700 years.

According to the Delegation, the gravest problem is the segmentation of the regions, as the neighbouring counties are each supporting a different group.

Tunne Kelam MEP, who chaired the meeting, said that the rapid deterioration of the internal stability in Iraq together with spilling over of Syrian conflict into Iraq is the source is of immediate concern for the EU.   The Estonian MEP was especially interested in the situation and future perspectives of the ancient Christian population whose numbers have dropped dramatically during the past 20 years, from 1, 2 million to some 330,000. 

Patriach Sako told the audience that the Christian community, despite systematic persecution and violence, has a constructive role in sectarian conflicts.  Having not taken sides and promoting non-violent solutions, Christians are often mediating between different actors of conflict, trying to build bridges through dialogue. 

In Patriarch's words, the only way to re-establish stability and peace is through implementing the rule of law and democratic system which would provide equal rights for all minorities and denominations.  To achieve this, de-politization of Islamic sects and educating the population is seen as precondition. 

Elmar Brok, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, asked for advice who would be the appropriate partners, the EU could approach to channel material and educational assistance.  In his opinion the Middle East crisis reminds the Thirty-year war in Europe, where religious conflict masked the interests of different political powers.

Tunne Kelam concluded the meeting by pointing out that the Iraqi crisis has made EU politicians much keenly aware of the fate of Christians in the Middle East.

"We cannot remain indifferent to their situation, the EU should do its utmost to assist them and create conditions that Christians, the oldest known inhabitants of that region, can remain there in conditions of equality and mutual respect".

The members participating the meeting were Cristian Preda (Romania), Jan Olbrycht (Poland), György Hölvényi (Hungary), Andrzej Grzyb (Poland), Elmar Brok (Germany), Miroslav Mikolasik (Slovakia), Lars Adaktusson (Sweden), and Michaela Šojdrovà (Czech Republic)

During their visit, the delegation will meet with the press and have a programme of meetings with high-level representatives of the EU institutions: the European Parliament, the EU Council, the European External Action Service, and European Commissioners as well as with NATO.

Photo from the meeting