President Nechirvan Barzani participated in the opening ceremony of the new Patriarchal Society and Cathedral of the Assyrian Church of the East in Erbil, also attended by His Holiness the Patriarch Mar Awa III, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in Iraq and the world.
The ceremony on August 5 was attended by a number of ministers, officials, diplomats, Christian and Islamic clerics and followers of the Assyrian Church of the East.
The following is a readout of President Nechirvan Barzani’s speech at the ceremony:
Your Holiness Patriarch Mar Awa III,
Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East in Iraq and the world,
Religious leaders and dear attendees,
I welcome you to the opening of the new Patriarchal Society and Cathedral in Erbil. I am very pleased to participate in this ceremony with you. I congratulate all followers of the Assyrian Church of the East in the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the world, and all Christians, on the occasion of the opening of this beautiful community.
On this occasion, we commemorate the late Patriarch Mar Denkha IV, former president of the Assyrian Church of the East, who decided to move the seat of the church from the United States to Erbil, but unfortunately passed away before that. May he rest in peace. May the opening of this cathedral bless his soul. It was a very brave decision. It was a great support to Kurdistan, and it created confidence for Christians to stay here in their country, to believe in it, and to not migrate.
Therefore, in 2014, when ISIS occupied much of Kurdistan and Iraq and much of Syria, a large number of Christians and others moved to the Kurdistan Region. Today, together with the people of Erbil and Kurdistan, and with His Holiness Patriarch Mar Awa III, we are very pleased with the opening of this cathedral and this religious community in the Kurdistan Region.
I am sure that this beautiful society will be another center to strengthen the faith and sense of coexistence in Kurdistan Region and in Iraq; it will be another incentive to stay and not leave the country. The beauty of Kurdistan lies in its multi-ethnicity, multi-religiosity and multi-composition.
Christians are central to the beauty of coexistence in Kurdistan. In Kurdistan, peaceful coexistence has become a strong culture that no regime or force has been able to destroy. Coexistence is a deep principle of faith of Kurdistan, regardless of nationality or religion. This coexistence in Kurdistan is so deep and strong that it has become a great strength for all of us and earned the respect of the world.
We all remember in Kurdistan, when US President Mr. Barack Obama, in his historic speech on the night of August 7, 2014, decided to fight the attack of ISIS, as he said: “Erbil is a red line for us.” One of the reasons he mentioned for the need to protect Erbil and the Kurdistan Region was that he said: ”In the region (Kurdistan), a very successful and strong coexistence has been built”.
It is a matter of pride for all of us that since the establishment of the Kurdistan Parliament in 1991, the need to have Christian and Turkmen representatives in the Kurdistan Regional Government and Parliament was one of the main decisions. At that time and until now, along with the Kurdish language, attention was paid to the Syriac and Turkmen languages. Christians and Turkmens began to study in their own languages.
The freedom achieved in the Kurdistan Region has brought revival to all nations, religions, and communities in Kurdistan. This coexistence has made Kurdistan a better place for us and has evoked the admiration of the world. We will not stop strengthening coexistence, rather, we will develop it further.
This region of ours, which was called Mesopotamia in ancient history, is a great center of life, humanity, and civilization. It was a mixed and diverse area of ethnicities. Mesopotamia was indeed the beautiful garden of the nations. Unfortunately, however, massive genocides occurred in the region as a result of foreign attacks. However, in Kurdistan, multi-ethnicity and multi-religiosity remained because the nations and religions here became the shields of mutual protection.
The history of coexistence in Kurdistan is old and has been renewed and strengthened by great historic leaders at many stages. As President Massoud Barzani has written and stated, this coexistence began at the beginning of the last century between Sheikh Abdulsalam of Barzan, Mar Benjamin Shamoun and Andrianik Pasha.
The agreement and common struggle between Sheikh Abdulsalam Barzani and Mar Benjamin Shamoun was reflected in the Barzan revolutions, the September and May revolutions, and continues to this day. With God’s help, it will grow stronger in Kurdistan.
That cooperation and mutual protection was, once again, widely renewed during the sectarian war in Iraq after 2003, after the terrorist attacks of al-Qaeda and after the attacks of ISIS terrorists. The Kurdistan Region has proudly become a safe haven for the protection of Christians and other Iraqi communities. That has been our duty and everyone is proud of it, then and now.
Unfortunately, after the outbreak of sectarian war and attacks by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in southern and central Iraqi cities between 2004 and 2008, a total of 111 churches were blown up, or attacked. 1,315 Christian civilians were martyred, hundreds of Christians were kidnapped, and several bishops and shamashas were assassinated. Several Christian children were martyred and wounded on the way to school. Dozens of Christian properties were confiscated.
Fortunately, due to our coexistence and stability in the Kurdistan Region and the efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government institutions, not a single church or Christian in the Kurdistan Region was harmed. Dozens of Peshmergas sacrificed their lives to protect and liberate the Christian villages and towns of the Nineveh Plains.
Tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced to the Kurdistan Region as a result of the attacks of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. In June 2014, 150,000 Christians fled to the Kurdistan Region and still live in Kurdistan.
Ankawa is now one of the largest Christian cities in the Middle East, with 86,000 Christians. Ankawa has always been treated specially by the Kurdistan Regional Government and has been treated with respect by the people of Kurdistan.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Ministry and Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs of the Kurdistan Regional Government which has always encouraged religious leaders to strengthen coexistence. I would also like to thank the Union of Islamic Religious Scholars of Kurdistan and the Islamic Religious Clerics in the Kurdistan Region for preventing the extremism against other faiths and religious coexistence.
At the same time, we thank the bishops and Christian clergy in the Kurdistan Region for not allowing any provocative voice, action, or behavior that would hurt the hearts of Muslims, or other religions in the Kurdistan Region, and have been against all such speech and action anywhere in the world.
Progress and success is an outcome of diversity. Diversity has contributed to the progress of the world and humanity. Ethnic, religious, and sectarian wars have devastated and delayed many countries. But people with peaceful ethnic and religious coexistence have filled their countries and the world with technological progress. The path to the development of countries and the prosperity of nations is clearly peace, mutual respect and coexistence. We have chosen the right path and the path of God, as we believe in coexistence.
God could have created all peoples as one nation with one language, but He made plurality the mechanism of human progress by encouraging people to know each other, cooperate, and live together.
Now that I see a beautiful mosque in the same place and across the street, opposite this beautiful cathedral, I see a clear prospect for further strengthening coexistence in Kurdistan. I hope that every individual, every parent at home, every teacher in school, every religious figure in a shrine, teaches a lesson of coexistence every day. This is the will of God and the way for the progress of society. Let’s not give up that path and make it much stronger.
Once again, I congratulate you on the opening of this cathedral and this community.
I wish you peace and happiness.