Threats, war and displacement, among other hardships, have been driving the number of Armenians in Iraq to a steady decline, and the minority to the brink of total disappearance.
All such hardships have pushed the minority to despairing, although some are still hopeful to preserve their existence in Iraq and their identity.
Janet Nizar Palyan is an Armenian woman from Tal Afar in Nineveh province. Her family, who fled the Ottomans, originally come from Urfa in Turkey.
Six years ago, Janet and her family. Leaving their home and possessions, fled ISIS and settled in Duhok, Kurdistan Region.
“We have inherited displacement from our ancestors. Each generation migrates from one region to another. This has caused the reduction of the number of Armenians in Iraq significantly,” Janet said.
“The injustice the Ottoman empire inflicted on us is… ISIS did the same thing to us. This is just our fate.”
Mati George, an Armenian student, also has been displaced and living in Duhok for the past six years. He used to have a normal and comfortable life in Shingal, but now leads a hard one in a rented house.
“We were about 15 families who lived in peace and without problems alongside our Ezidi brothers and other components of the region. But everything was upended for us Armenians and other religious minorities,” Mati said.
Mati says they can’t return to Shingal because of lack of security.
Most of Iraq’s Armenians reside in Baghdad, the Nineveh Plain, Mosul, Kirkuk and the Kurdistan Region.
There isn’t a reliable statistic on the number of Armenians in Iraq; some estimate their number to be around 20,000, but the head of the Armenian community in Duhok, Yarwant Arminian, says there are 3,000 of them in the Kurdistan Region and 12,000 in total in Iraq.
We now seek a recognition that a genocide has been committed against Armenians in Iraq
“We now seek a recognition that a genocide has been committed against Armenians in Iraq. If that is done, I think Armenians will no longer face displacement and hardships. Unfortunately, the rights of Armenians and Christians generally are still being violated.” He said, mentioning the attacks by ISIS in 2014 in which many of them were killed and led to their displacement of many others.
“The positive thing is that we never consider ourselves second-class citizens, but count ourselves as any other citizen of Iraq. And that to be able to overcome the challenges and prevent our extinction,” Arminian said.
Part of the Armenians from Duhok and Nineveh migrated in 1918 when the Ottomans committed the genocide against them.
In the town of Zakho, there is an Armenian neighbourhood called Kesta. The first Armenian Church in Iraq dates back to 1923, according to Yarwant.
Another part of Iraq’s Armenians came for trading and settled
Another part of Iraq’s Armenians came for trading and settled, says Yarwant.
There are four Armenian churches in Duhok, one in Erbil, three in Baghdad, one in Kirkuk, one in Basra and two in Nineveh. The two churches in Nineveh were destroyed by ISIS and haven’t been reconstructed yet.
“According to our statistics, more than 20,000 Armenians have left Iraq since 1991. If it wasn’t for the Coronavirus, more would have left by now,” Yarwant says.
we are tired of war, bloodshed and displacement. Armenians are looking for a stable place. Iraq is not that stable place
“The region is not secure for us; we are tired of war, bloodshed and displacement. Armenians are looking for a stable place, that’s why they migrate. Iraq is not that stable place.”
A parliamentary seat is reserved for Armenians in the Kurdistan Region Parliament in accordance with the quota system, but their attempts to obtain one in the Iraqi Parliament have not been successful.
Fahik Kamal Sughun, an Armenian member of the Kurdistan Region Parliament, told KirkukNow: "We freely practice our religious rituals. There are three Armenian schools in Duhok. But we seek more rights. For example, all other minorities have seats in The Iraqi Parliament under the quota system, with the exception of Armenians.”
In May 2019, Avak Azadurian, Archbishop of Armenians in Baghdad, sent an official letter to the Iraqi president, urging him to work to secure a quota seat for the Armenians, but his attempt did not bear fruit.
Sughun said: "If Armenians remain marginalized in this way, there won’t be any Armenian left in Iraq."
Anu Jawhar, Kurdistan Regional Government’s Minister of Transport and Communications and a member of the Christian community, says that all Christians migrate, not just Armenians.
“We in the Kurdistan Regional Government sought to prevent Christians from migrating abroad and keep their existence as an indigenous component. In general, we need two things to prevent migration: the first is activating the laws regarding Christians; the second is for the political leadership in the Kurdistan Region, from all entities and parties, to continue their support for the rights of the minorities and appreciate them more.”