Date: June 13, 2019
Venue: American University of Kurdistan, Duhok Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI)
Number of Speakers: 12 (9 Panel Speakers and 3 Panel Chairs) Total Number of Participants: 120 registered participants
OPEN THINK TANK (OTT) organized its Sixth conference under the name of Open Debates 6, in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), Syria/Iraq office and the American University of Kurdistan. The Open Debates is a series of public events such as conferences, meetings and workshops held by Open Think Tank in collaboration with its partners.
Conference Report by: Dr. Mohammedali Taha1Dr. Amjed Rasheed2
1 Dr. Mohammedali Taha is president of Open Think Tank
2 Dr. Amjed Rasheed is post-doc researcher at Durham University, UK
Since 2014 and the rise of terrorism by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, the Kurdistan Region turned into a haven and a home to a displaced religious, ethnic and cultural diversity in Iraq. Among the IDPs, there are Kurds, Yezidis, Chaldo-Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenians and Arabs, Kakais, Shabaks, etc. Meanwhile, the suffering was not limited to the Christian and Yezidi communities, but all the societies of both countries continue to suffer from the consequences of the ISIS’s reign of terror and the effects of the fight against the organization. This is especially true for ethnic and religious minorities that faced systematic persecution and displacement by the jihadi groups, mainly ISIS. However, Christian and Yezidi minorities were most targeted minorities of ISIS for two reasons. The first one is ideological as those two minorities are not Muslim. The second reason geographical. Areas were ISIS was mostly active in Iraq were mixed areas such as Ninihav plain and mountain Sinjar.
. Since the beginning of the crisis, the Kurdistan Region hosts more than 300.000 Yezidi Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the Ninawa Province, particularly from the Sinjar region. With a lack of serious reconstruction efforts in their home region, the Yezidi community in Iraq faces an uncertain future. Similarly, the once vibrant Iraqi Christian community has suffered years of oppression and displacement that have resulted in an ongoing exodus. Because of such trends, Iraq’s Christian community and heritage is at stake.
The Popular Mobilization forces PMF also pose a series threat to the return of those IDPs to their areas. This state-owned militia has grown considerably in size, power and leverage. It controls massive areas in Iraq, including Christian and Yazidi areas. Members of PMF militia reject to withdrew from the IDPs areas or allow the return of the population using various pretexts, including the presence of mines and remnants of war, as well as allegations of the possible return of IS. It is important to mention here that PMF is in Sinjar mainly to have access to Syria. Similar is the case in the Anbar area.
Currently, Kurdistan Region hosts nearly 1.5 million IDPs and refugees. According to the KRG Ministry of Interior’s Joint Crisis Coordination Centre (JCC,), only 32000 of this number have either returned to their homes or migrated to a third country3.
This one-day conference focused on the current socio-economic and security situation of the Yezidi and Christian communities in Iraq. The conference aimed to identify the challenges that both communities face. In particular, it focused on identifying the needs of these minorities as well as on debating concrete policies and measures that can ensure the persistence of both Yezidis and Christians in Iraq.
The participants of the Open Debates 6 were mainly legislators, decision makers, political party leaders, community and religious leaders from ethnic and religious minority groups in KRI. In addition, a number of experts, academics, media and civil society representatives, representatives of embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions to Kurdistan Region and Iraq were present at the event.
The Three Panels, Speakers and the Main Questions
Dr. John Menzies, President of the American University of Kurdistan (AUK)Dr. Mohammedali Taha, President and Founding Member of Open Think Tank
Gregor Jaecke, Head of the Syria/Iraq Office, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS)
H. E. Hemin Hawrami, Deputy President of Kurdish ParliamentPanel 1 – Difficult Recovery after the Genocide against the Yezidis
Chair: Dr. Amjed Rasheed, School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, UK
The main questions to set the Scene:
o How big was and is the Yezidi community (before and after IS)?
o Where is the Yezidi community dispersed at the moment? IDP camps, refugees abroad, returnees, etc.?
o Which status and influence do they enjoy in the Iraqi society?
o How big and which kind of international support are the Yezidis
Input 1: Legal and Religious Issues Pertaining to the Yezidi Community
Speaker: Khairi Bozani, Director General of the Yezidi Affairs, Ministry of Endowments
o Is the genocide recognized by all political and social actors in Iraq?
o What are the implications of the genocide recognition on Yezidis, their
rights and claims?
o How well are the religious legal opinions followed by the Yezidi community to facilitate the reintegration of women who were victims of IS and the children born from rape?
Input 2: Main Obstacles for the Return of IDPs and Refugees
Speaker: Haydar Shasho, Paramilitary Commander of Ezidkhan Protection Units in Sinjar (TBC)
o Have any reconstruction efforts started in the Sinjar valley?
o What is the situation in terms of security in the Sinjar valley and
concerning the tensions between armed groups present there?
o What kind of protection is offered for Yezidis to go back? Which basic services are in place?
Input 3: Socio-Economic Challenges to the Reintegration of Yezidis in the Iraqi social fabric
Speaker: Kerim Suleiman, Advisor to the Yezidi Supreme Spiritual Council
o What are the demographic changes that occurred among Yezidis through the genocide and their displacement and what are the long-term consequences on the community?
o What is the specific situation of women and girls who were victims of IS? Are they particularly subject to Gender-Based-Violence?
o How is the coexistence with other ethno-sectarian groups? How is it possible to achieve social cohesion with other population groups?
o Which kind of developmental support (vocational trainings, job opportunities, Arabic classes, capacity building, etc.) is required for the Yezidis to reintegrate into Iraqi society?
- Input 3: Support from International Churches
Speaker: Ano Jawhar, Christian Academic and Civil Society activist
o Which support do Christians receive from foreign actors and players? Who are they and what are their interests?
o What role can they play in legal and longer-term social changes?
o Is there coordination and mutual support between the different churches present in Iraq? Are decisions taken together at the local, provincial or national level?
Panel 3: Policy Recommendations for Reintegrating Yezidis and Christian Minorities in the Iraqi Social Fabric
Chair: Dr. Nizar Taib, Founding member of Open Think Tank (OTT) and Director General of Health-Duhok
Input 1: Recognizing the Genocide, Persecutions? – Implications for the Yezidi and Christian Communities
Speaker: Baravan Hamdi, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Martyrs, Anfal, Genocide and Political Prisoner
o International and national legislation
o Initiative for the Yezidis from the Iraqi presidency
Input 2: Building Trust and Social Cohesion
Speaker: Ebdulselam Medeni, Chief Executive Director of Rwanga Foundation
o Building trust – social cohesion and coexistence
o Ensuring safe and secure return
o Economic growth – investment and job opportunities
Input 3: Key Success Factors for a Viable Return
Speaker: Hoshyar Malo, Director of KHRW-Kurdish Human Rights Watch, Inc.o Best practices and success stories from various areas (for IDPs and
o How to mitigate the restrictive factors for a successful return
o Vulnerable population groups: which specific support is required
The Outcomes of the Open Debates 6
The conference created a space to better understand the challenges, possibilities and attempts to return and recovery of the minorities in Iraq, especially after the ISIS war. The main theme of the conference was on the policies and measures that would ensure the persistence of both Yezidis and Christians in Iraq. For that reason, the three panels of the Open Debates 6 were designed to aim at determining the extent to which the existing policies are in favor of a viable and honorable return for the displaced minorities. The panels aimed also to determine whether the authorities have a clear vision to work towards recovery of these war-affected people.
The Open Debates 6 attempted to contribute to the unfolding of the informal dialogue among the ethnic and religious minority, representatives, decision-makers, lawmakers and stakeholders regarding the political participation of the minorities. One of the main goals of the Open Debates is to disseminate the positions of these actors to a broader local, regional and international public through the event report, video and printed proceedings. The following are a set of recommendations derived from the Open Debates 6.
For recovery and return, we need to build trust among the different social groups. Return for the displaced will not be possible if the people do not have security, trust and a feeling that they are welcome back. This also include building trust between the state and its citizens.
- There is an urgent need for a stronger judiciary in the country. Trust in the state comes from its ability to establish justice in the country. With a weak and politicized judicial system in the country, the social contract between the state and its citizens is under threat.
- Kurdistan has not only proven to be a safe haven and many of Iraq’s minorities, but also refugees from the surrounding countries. However, IDPs and refugees- when necessary- need to be fully supported to return to their homelands and rebuild their communities. Needless to say, it is not only about building houses, it is also necessary to rebuild communities and establish a sense of normalicy.
- Securing and guaranteeing the rights of religious, ethnic or sectarian minorities can be done in four criteria: First, securing the legal and the constitutional rights; Second, securing their participation in the process of decision making; Third, ensuring thie social and cultural rights, and Fourth, protecting the demographic realities and ending discrimination. Without achieving these four criteria, minorities will continue be facing prosecution and marginilization.
- Recently, the idea of safe zone for Christians and Yezidis in their areas is widely discussed. While the problem is not with the geography or a place of residence, the main problem is with the mentality.
- The radical beliefs of some Islamists is a series threat in Iraq which is not only posed against Yezidis and Christians, and all other minorities. In addition, despite the de-territoriality of ISIS, the radical religious mentality continue to exist.
- The Yezidis and other minorities have not been dealt with as Iraqi or Kurdistani citizens. There is an urgent need to adopt robust inclusion policies. The feeling that Iraq and Kurdistan are their original homeland should be secured by policies of inclusion rather than slogans.
- The PMF (Hashd al-Sha’bi) and PKK strong presence in Sinjar is a great challenge to return, stability, and peace in Sinjar.
- Financial support is important for reconstruction of the areas and potential to build trust among the different social groups.
- Naming public places by taking into account the inclusion, existence and presence of minority groups in Iraq and Kurdistan. This makes a great difference to build trust and spread a sense of belonging. All the minorities believe that they are the original owners of this land. This feeling must be translated into reality. They must feel welcomed in their traditional lands not as refugees or guests.
The Role of Governmental Institutions
- Kurdistan Region and Baghdad better relations are in favor of all the minorities especially the post-conflict societies.
- Draft and finalizing the constitution of Kurdistan and making sure that all the rights of the minorities are fully secured. In addition, the political, cultural and social participation of the minorities must be secured and guaranteed.
- There is need for actions and plan of actions. The law number five of the year 2015 of Kurdistan Parliament related to the protection of the minorities is seems to be merely words on paper as it has not been implemented yet. The law might also need possible amendments and it must have a plan of action to implement it.
- The uncertainty of the fate of the minorities areas is one of the main reasons of their continuous problem, especially that these areas are part of what is named in the constitution of Iraq as the Disputed Areas. The fact that this dispute is not over makes life for the people of those areas more complicated day after day.
- The minority crises in Iraq are the outcome of the continuous failure of the state to practice democracy and fully implement the constitution.
- A plan of action is needed to be adopted by Kurdistan Region and Baghdad to 1) support the work of the committee of Genocide Recognition; 2) work towards recognition of the genocide both, locally and internationally; 3) a full involvement and commitment of the Iraqi govement; 4) Establishing a joint court in Iraq consisted of international and local judges with international support, funds and guarantees.
- Protecting minorities and diversities is a sinificant step towards cultural preservation and protection of a thousand years of civilization in Iraq.
- Formation of a governorate in Nineveh plain is discussed to be one of the main solutions. However, this is also hazardous and might add to the ongoing disputes rather than solving it. The area is subject to new security and administrative borders and realities and the main question is whether these security divisions becoming the future administrative borders.
- Kurdistan Parliament needs to recognize the Yezidi Genocide as soon as possible.
- Quota seats for Yezidis is important to be adopted and implemented at the Kurdistan parliament. The reason that Yezidis are not given their rights at the Kurdistan parliament for quota seats is becasye of the Kurdish inter-party conflict. Political parties believe that a quota system for Yezidis will directly serve KDP in the Kurdistan Region political system. Therefore they stand against it. There should be a national consensus among the Kurdistan Region political parties for the Yezidis quota system.
- To compare the status qou of the minorities in Kurdistan Region and other parts of Iraq, it is enough to refer to the number of churches and religious cites ruined in the other parts of Iraq and the number of built, established and reconstructed ones in Kurdistan. There is a clear openness
and culture of coexistence in Kurdistan incomparable with other parts of Iraq. Such policies must be adopted by Baghdad and in other parts of Iraq as well.
- Curricula development that promote toleratce, inclusion and cooestiance is necessary at this stage. The official curricula need to include all the components of the country regardless of their religions, ethnicity, and beliefs.
- Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) must be protected and the existing laws need to be amended in this direction and new laws need to be legislated to secure the FoRB.
- The implementation of article 140 of the Iraqi constitution will solve the issue of the minority quota. For instance, minorities such as Yezidis would not need a quota to arrive to the parliament seats. Their voters will secure their representation, though their constitutiones. This would also change the situation of Christians, Kakayis, Shabaks, and Sabis.
- Any amendments to the electoral law and the changing of the quota system must consider all the minorities in the Kurdistan region including the Arabs.
The Need for continuous discussions and dialogues
- Continuous dialogues, debate and talk addressing the problems and issues facing minorities and different communities in Iraq is important. Addressing the problems is half way solving them.
- Discussion on how to transition from an ongoing crisis mode to a situation where the Yezidis, Christians and other minorities have a proper future in Kurdistan Region and Iraq.