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Iraq: Ankawa, Home of the Christians, Comes of Age

The creation of “the biggest district of Christians in the Middle East” has been warmly welcomed by a bishop from the area who sees the development as critical for securing the future of the Church in the country.

2019: St Peter and Paul Catechism Centre, Ankawa

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Nathaniel Nizar Semaan of Adiabene told Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he is “delighted” that the government in Kurdish northern Iraq is making the Erbil suburb of Ankawa an administrative district in its own right.

The announcement by Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, will mean people in Ankawa—home to 60,000 Christians—have devolved authority to elect civil leaders such as a mayor, and powers over security and welfare support. Until now, Ankawa, which is 80 percent Christian, has been a sub-district of Erbil.

2019: Celebration at St Peter and Paul Catechism Centre, Ankawa

Thanking the KRG for “making this gesture,” Archbishop Semaan, who is based in Ankawa, told ACN: “The decision to make Ankawa a separate district will, we hope, be an important step forward both for the region and for the future of Christianity in Iraq.”

Ankawa’s Christian population dramatically increased overnight when in August 2014 nearly 120,000 faithful fled following the Daesh (ISIS) invasion of the nearby Nineveh Plains. Although large numbers have returned following the military defeat of ISIS, many Christians have stayed in Ankawa.

Iraq, October 2014 Family Khalid Matti (parents with 2 sons and 6 daughters), who lived in a tent: in the foreground on the left is Lilian, aged 23, who is an English teacher, and the youngest boy is called Awas). They were living in a centre for the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) families from Qarakosh organized by St. Elias shrine. 150 PVC caravans were provided in Ankawa district for use as emergency accommodation for IDPs forced from their homes by ISIS.

Better to Go to Ankawa than to Leave Iraq

Prime Minister Barzani’s announcement this week that “Ankawa will be the biggest district of Christians in the Middle East” came shortly after a meeting with Archbishop Semaan and other bishops, including Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf. The bishops presented Mr. Barzani with a written request to grant what Archbishop Semaan called “special status” to Ankawa on grounds of its increased population.

Archive picture 2014: Fr. Douglas Bazi, Chaldean priest and ACN project partner, stands with a group of children who hold the ACN logo at Mar Qardakh street where a school is being built for them and for 7500 other displaced Christian children from the Nineveh Plains.

Emphasizing that district status would not turn Ankawa into a Christian ghetto, Archbishop Semaan spoke of the area forming part of “a triangle” of Christian centres including the towns of Qaraqosh and Alqosh, both in the Nineveh Plains. He added: “Ankawa becoming a separate district will help us witness to our faith to the whole of Iraq, showing that there are still Christians here. ‘We are not inviting the people of Nineveh to come and live here [in Ankawa] but if they want to come they are welcome. It is better if they come [to Ankawa] than leave Iraq.’

Building of secondary school for Christian IDPs in Ankawa / Erbil

Praising the decision to make Ankawa a district, Nadine Maenza, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated: ‘Encouraging to see Marour Barzani’s announcement that they will put Ainkawa under administrative control of its Christian residents with the ability to … “directly shape their destinies.”’

2019: Youth Evangelization Program 2020

ACN has prioritized help for Christians in northern Iraq, providing emergency help following the ISIS Daesh invasion, rebuilding homes and churches and now supporting university students and medical care in the Erbil area as well as pastoral care in Kurdistan and Nineveh.

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