Ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East might be getting their own homeland soon.
On September 9th, a bipartisan resolution was introduced in the US House of Representatives in order to establish an independent homeland in the Nineveh Plain region of Iraq for persecuted religious and ethnic minorities, including the Assyrians, Yazidis, and Shabaks.
Many believed the province to be necessary since, prior to 2014, targeted killings, internal displacement, discrimination in accessing public services, attacks on religious sites, and political disenfranchisement terrorized minorities in Iraq. Furthermore, during the summer of 2014, the Islamic State group brutally took over large territories in Iraq.
In response to this terrorism, many people groups affected by the diaspora expressed a desire for their own independent state.
Even though many Western powers made efforts to resettle Iraq’s Christian community in the West, many Assyrians have expressed wishes to remain in and rebuild their antiquated communities.
As Juliana Taimoorazy explains, “Our ancestral homeland is the Nineveh plain.”
The bill was drafted by Jeff Fortenberry, the Institute for Global Engagement, In Defense of Christians, and the Philos Project as a response to the US State Department and Congress declaring in March that the IS is committing genocide against ethnic and religious minorities.
US Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R‑NE) introduced the resolution on September 9th, stating, “Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities have been slaughtered and driven from their homes by IS’s horrific genocide.”
In Iraq alone, the Christian population has plummeted from 1.5 million in 2003 to current estimates of 275,000. creation of this independent state would allow the native Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Christians, Shabaks, Turkmen, and Yazidis an opportunity to return to their ancestral homeland.
“One next step must be the re-securitization and revitalization of the Nineveh Plain, allowing the repatriation of those who had to flee,” Fortenberry said.
The executive director of the Philos Project, Robert Nicholson, agrees that creating a safe haven would “weaken violent Islamic factions, and protect against a post-IS vacuum.”
The establishment of an independent state in the Nineveh Plain would “ decentralize power to Iraq’s various regional communities and allow each to protect and govern itself at the local level.”
This decentralization of power among Iraq’s various regional communities hints at the United States’ potential strategy to weaken IS.
In addition to the indigenous people of the Nineveh Plain, the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government have both endorsed the idea, while the European Parliament has “has recognized the importance of securing the Nineveh Plain for Assyrians Chaldeans and others,” Nicholson stated.
The legislation designates the land northeast of the city of Mosul as the safe haven province.
The proposed province is reminiscent of when Iraq abounded with a multiplicity of diverse faiths and ethnicities, including Jews, Mandean Sabeans, Arameans, Baha’i, Kaka’i, and others.
The resolution follow up on the Iraqi government’s own initiative in January 2014 to establish a province in the Nineveh Plain region in order to restore the ancestral homeland of its suffering minority communities.
In January 2014, the Iraqi Cabinet of Ministers decided to create a new province on the Nineveh Plain, in addition to three other provinces, but the advent of IS put those plans on hold.
This bill is simply asking for Iraq to resume that process once IS is rolled back and attempting to pledge as much US support as possible.
Even though the establishment of a province for persecuted minorities may seem improbable, Nicholson cited a few historical examples of this strategy working well.
He explains, “History has shown us various examples of this concept working in practice, of minority peoples under existential threat surviving and thriving by securing territory: Israel, Armenia, Iraqi Kurdistan, even (to a far less satisfactory degree) Native American reservations in the U.S.”
This legislation offers a chance at protection for Iraq’s minorities who are living in persecution, have fled the country, or are displaced.
Brownfield is a junior studying politics and classical education