As Erbil Christians finally get to govern themselves, Chaldean Catholic archbishop Bashar Warda explains to CT how ISIS freed Christians from the centuries-old understanding that they are second-class citizens.
This week, the Christian enclave of Ankawa in Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, was designated by the autonomous region’s prime minister as an official district with administrative autonomy. Starting next week, Christians will directly elect their own mayor and be in charge of security, among other matters.
Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called Ankawa a home for “religious and social coexistence, and a place for peace.”
Archbishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, called it an “important” and “strategic” decision.
“Our confidence in the future of Kurdistan makes us encourage Christians not only to stay,” he told Kurdistan 24, “but also to invest in this region.”
Ordained a priest in 1993, Warda was consecrated in his current position in 2010. With Iraq’s hemorrhaging of Christians since the 2003 US invasion, Warda’s bishopric in the autonomous Kurdish region soon became a providential band-aid.
Beginning in 2014, ISIS drove Christians from Mosul and their traditional homeland in the Nineveh Plains, and thousands took refuge in Erbil and other cities in the secure northeast. From 1.5 million Christians in 2003, the Chaldean Catholic church now estimates a population of fewer than 275,000 Christians.
Warda has long been investing to turn the tide.
In 2015, he established the Catholic University of Erbil, and has coordinated relief aid from governments and charities alike. The situation stabilized following ISIS’s defeat in 2017.
But freedom does not come from politics alone. Two years ago, Christians endorsed widespread popular uprisings against the political class. Violently suppressed, the …