WASHINGTON, DC – Today the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a report on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) titled Wilting in the Kurdish Sun: The Hopes and Fears of Religious Minorities in Northern Iraq. This groundbreaking report is the first independent report of its kind to involve in-person interviews with representatives of almost all the religious minority groups in the KRI.
The report notes that “the KRI remains far more welcoming and tolerant to minorities than its regional neighbors” and expresses hope that special effort will be taken to “preserve [the] freedoms and rights” of minorities.
USCIRF Chair Thomas J. Reese, S.J. stated: “Since the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria came to power in 2014, it has committed genocide and threatened the very existence of the region’s religious minority communities. These communities, including Yezidis, Christians, Shabaks, and Turkmen, have now fled to the KRI. We praise the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for sheltering and protecting these oppressed groups and urge it to continue to take steps to ensure that these communities realize their rights and fully participate in society.”
This optimism, however, is tempered by research indicating that “troubling issues related to discrimination and even violence targeting ethnic and religious minorities exist, exacerbated by the KRI’s strained resources and security situations.” The deteriorating political and economic condition in the KRI and Iraq, combined with poorly enforced protections for the KRG’s internally-displaced persons (IDPs) communities in the KRI, could put minorities increasingly at risk.
Based on interviews with numerous relevant actors and detailed research, including trips to the region, the authors also found that:
- Kurdish authorities are accused of attempting to “Kurdify” more ethnically diverse parts of the disputed territories. In some instances, groups have reported the destruction of properties and IDPs have been prevented from returning home.
- The Yezidis face discrimination from authorities in Sinjar and report pressure to identify as Kurds.
- Christians have complained of land appropriation by Kurdish landowners and have been prevented from protesting such measures.
Both the full report and a condensed version, titled Executive Summary and Key Findings, may be found at www.USCIRF.gov. Follow USCIRF’s posting about this report on Twitter (@USCIRF/#WiltingInTheSun) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/USCIRF/).
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world. USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the Congressional leadership of both political parties. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at Media@USCIRF.gov or John D. Lawrence, Director of Communications (JLawrence@USCIRF.gov/+1-202-786-0611).