On Christmas Eve, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, spoke in Ainkawa district of Erbil, to a large audience, most of whom have fled the violent repression of the Islamic State terrorist organisation, known as IS, and took refuge in the Kurdistan Region.
Following is the text of the speech
Today on this birthday of Jesus Christ, in many parts of the world thousands upon thousands of families and households gather. People offer Christmas greetings, exchange gifts, pray for peace and security for each other, for their community, and for humanity. They pray for the coming New Year to bring life to their dreams and aspirations, and they pray also to help their friends and neighbours who may be unable to live the lives they wish.
We also have the same dreams and hopes and prayers. This is the culture of the peaceful coexistence we live in Kurdistan, among all our people regardless of religion, sect, ethnicity, or language.
The dream of all people in our country is to live together in peace and comfort. What distinguishes Kurdistan from other places in the region is our tolerance of all religions and ethnicities. This is our culture and it is our will.
Sometimes I hear this is the will of God applicable to all who live in Kurdistan. Accepting differences, accepting each other, and defending each other’s rights are the basis on which we can all live a better life, especially during difficult times when it is needed most.
The Kurdistan Region has become an example of peaceful coexistence, keeping safe those innocent people who fled attacks by IS. The security of each displaced person is a responsibility that falls on all our shoulders as a government, as nongovernment organizations, as civil societies, as political parties, and on every person in all our cities, towns, and villages.
This year we have seen with our own eyes how all people who live in Kurdistan came together to help our dear Christians and Yezidis. Everyone sympathized and empathized with them. Those that could, helped those in need as much as they could. Some opened their homes to welcome displaced families.
Christians are a fundamental, essential component of Kurdistan and Iraq. We shall continue to assist them and cater to their needs.
During the past few days, after careful organisation and planning, we have seen how our brave Peshmerga were able to attack IS successfully and liberate Shingal Mountain and many of the villages and towns in that area. And also during the past few weeks, many Christian towns and villages have also been liberated by our Peshmerga.
Following this summer’s tragic events in which Christians and Yezidis endured barbaric attacks from ISIS, they are happy to see their areas being liberated. This is evidence of the strength, capability, and commitment of the Government and the people of Kurdistan, and how they are all united. This reaffirms the promise of peaceful coexistence in Kurdistan.
All religions are based on peace, cooperation, coexistence, and acceptance of each other. It is most unfortunate that, after attacks by IS and displacement of so many different religious groups from their villages and lands, mistrust has appeared and there has been a loss of our spirit of peaceful coexistence. This is a natural result of actions and attacks of the terrorists who are fighting against humanity and coexistence, and whose crimes do not adhere to any human principles, and are far from all religious and nonreligious beliefs.
As a result of terrorist crimes we have been hearing there is strong demand to leave the country. We understand these feelings. We understand this feeling of hopelessness. At the same time, however, we do not forget the 1980s when a tragedy of similar proportion struck so many in Kurdistan during the horrific Baath attacks committed in the name of the Anfal verses of the Quran. But we did not leave our country.
During those difficult times, few came to the rescue of the people of Kurdistan. If we had all fled abroad we would have lost our land. We would not have been able to rebuild our country, and we would now not be able to come to the rescue of anyone.
Despite those difficulties, however, people from all religious and ethnic communities began rebuilding their lives, their homes and villages, including clearing of landmines. Trade resumed. Our natural springs began to flow again. Hope revived, and the birds returned to their nests.
In this historic time I urge our beloved Christians, Yezidies, Shabaks, Turkmens, and all our communities to remain steadfast. The life of the enemy is short. They want to divide us by threatening our ethno-religious minorities in Kurdistan and Iraq and force them to leave their homelands.
Our will to protect our country, our people and our native land, however, is stronger than the enemy’s threats. We should not leave our country for the enemy to take. Our dream to return to our homes and lands in the future must always remain stronger than the fears, threats, hunger, and poverty of today.
The roots of Christians in our country are deep and go back thousands of years. They have been living next to other communities peacefully, and they have built our country together. This has nothing to do with numbers or figures or the ratio of their population. It has to do with their origins and their centuries of contribution in this region, their participation in building, peacefully coexisting with all others, and governing our country.
They are among the oldest indigenous communities, and they are among the owners of this country. They are here and they can protect their current and earlier history. They are here in the lands of their ancestors where they can protect their customs and traditions better than in any other country.
Fortunately, this time, the people of Kurdistan are not alone. As you know, many countries have come to the aid of Kurdistan. They share our resistance to terrorism and are firmly against ISIS.
Earlier last summer we may have felt alone in front of terrorist threats and IS. But now our allies of the international coalition are supporting us with airstrikes which have helped our Peshmerga to liberate areas held by this force against humanity.
Let us therefore mark today to renew our hopes for the return of all internally displaced people to their homes. Let us light a candle for the rebirth of our hopes, for a bright future, and for the return of peaceful coexistence of all religious and ethnic communities in Kurdistan and Iraq. Let us mark this day to remember the victims, and the resilience of our resistance, of freedom, and of peace for all of Kurdistan and its diverse communities.
Finally, I would like to celebrate this birthday of Jesus Christ with the Patriarchs and clergy of all Christian communities in Kurdistan and Iraq. And through them I wish to celebrate this day of peace with all people and believers as well as all Christians in Kurdistan, Iraq, and the world.
Following is a video excerpt of the speech from Rudaw News