An open letter to His Holiness Pope Francis, head of the worldwide Catholic Church, from the people of Ankawa, the largest Catholic town in Iraq:
Please save the last Catholic stronghold from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Ankawa is a Christian suburb of Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. The majority of its residents are Catholic; the estimated population of Catholics in Ankawa is approximately 30,000. It is regarded as the last remaining Catholic stronghold in Iraq.
Your Holiness, you traveled to Ankawa during your recent visit where you were greeted with open arms by thousands of its residents. Following your visit, you praised the KRG for preserving the rights of Christians in the region. Unfortunately, your comments did not reflect the reality of our situation on the ground, as KRG policies and practices are actively driving us from our homeland.
The injustice and abuses committed by the KRG against the people of Ankawa is a long-term challenge that is well-documented. We have continued to write about the issues that affect us, and we will continue to do so until our demands for equality are met. Here are a couple examples of pressing issues that threaten our future here:
Did you know that the KRG implements discriminatory taxation policies on Christians in Ankawa, a difference that reaches approximately 4 millions USD annually, when no such tax is collected from any other non-Christian adjacent town? Despite the higher taxes, not a single dollar of the 2019 infrastructure budget for Erbil Governorate was allocated to Ankawa, while millions of dollars were spent on other non-Christian villages which are not subject to taxation.
Did you know that the KRG has confiscated (stolen) thousands of hectares of lands belonging to the Christian farmers of Ankawa? The Erbil International Airport and dozens of commercial projects built on these lands have resulted in millions of dollars of revenue annually for the KRG, yet not a single dollar was granted to the rightful owners as compensation for the losses they sustained. Furthermore, these farmers and their families were excluded from any employment opportunities at the airport or any other projects built on their lands. Did you know that even the United Nations was complicit in this plan, building its main office on these stolen lands?
In the end, we ask that whoever reads our call for help does what they can to ensure our voice reaches the world and that the truth is exposed.
We plead to Your Holiness to urgently intervene and help save our lands from the unjust, discriminatory, and greedy KRG officials. Our Christian youth are leaving the country due to the abuses committed and the theft of our lands. The KRG has suffocated our town from all directions, and the majority of its people are planning to leave the country for good—which would render these lands empty of their indigenous Christian population and lead to the destruction of one of the oldest and most deeply rooted Christian communities that still speaks the language of Christ.