Minorities in Iraq and Syria: on the brink of destruction

Since taking over vast swaths of Iraq and Syria ISIS has carried out a campaign of violence and subjugation against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. 

As mass killings and desperate attempts to flee put several of these groups at risk of extinction, the human rights subcommittee held a hearing on 30 May to shed light on the plight of those caught up in the unrest. Minority representatives from the region shared their first-hand observations with us. 

Sundus Abbas, Iraqi Turkmen representative 

Constituting the third largest ethnicity in Iraq, since 2003 Iraqi Turkmen have been exposed to bombings, assassinations and kidnappings while our lands have been confiscated by the Kurds. A European Parliament resolution in 2013 called on the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to provide protection for Iraqi Turkmen. 

Unfortunately, both parties have left us completely exposed to ISIS. Iraqi and Kurdish forces withdrew from Tal Afar, a city which was 90% Iraqi Turkmen and left the population face to face with ISIS. 350,000 people had to flee while over 500 women and 150 children were abducted. The same has happened in other Iraqi Turkmen areas. 

In Taza, just south of Kirkuk, ISIS recently launched a chemical attack. We urge European countries to understand that Iraq is a mosaic; it is more than just Shia, Sunni and Kurd. If the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities cannot provide protection, then Iraqi Turkmen have a right to form our own armed force and to protect ourselves on our own land. 

We condemn ISIS atrocities against Yazidis and Christians, but Iraqi Turkmen need assistance also. 

Sam Andrews, Arab Human Rights Academy 

Anyone who doesn't conform to the highly fundamentalist Islam of ISIS is either forced to convert or simply executed. The very small minorities in Iraq are becoming increasingly crushed between government forces and ISIS. 

As the government seeks to create a new narrative of an Iraq unified between Sunni, Shia and Kurd, they are neglecting the ever-shrinking minorities whose fundamental rights are being removed piece by piece. We need to ensure that the internally displaced have the necessary provisions to survive. 

Due to historic persecution some people do not have ID cards and cannot seek assistance from the government. We need to ensure that those who have traditionally been marginalised do not fall through the gaps of provision, and in the long term civil society in Iraq needs to be strengthened. 

Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, leader of the Assyrian Christians 

The existence of an indigenous community that is 2,000 years old and predates Islam is now seriously endangered. There were over one million Christians in Iraq in 2003, now the most optimistic estimates are of 250,000. 

The richness of the Middle East comes from its diversity yet from primary school right through to university an Iraqi child will never learn a word about non-Muslim minorities like the Jews, Mandaeans, Yazidis and Christians. Daesh is uprooting us physically but we have already been uprooted from the national consciousness. 

They are targeting everyone who does not share its ideology but the Yazidis and Christians are the primary targets. People are being removed from their homes, women and girls are being taken as slaves and churches are bombed and looted. 

120,000 Christians were driven out of their towns and villages in the Nineveh plains and Mosul and for the first time in 2,000 years there are no Christmas services in the biblical city of Nineveh. So I thank the Parliament for this discussion but Iraq's minorities are tired of hearing statements of solidarity. We need immediate action. 

Yazidi rights activist Nadia Murad Basee Taha and Father Ziad Hilal, formerly responsible for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Homs, also took part in the hearing. It was presided over by chair Elena Valenciano. All interventions can be watched here.

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