Minorities Need Protection in Ninawa Governorate: the Shabak are among the most vulnerable
Statement by the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), June 27, 2014
A call for the protection of minorities, and in particular, civilians from the Shabak minority in Mosul: all parties should consider Shabak neutral in terms of sectarian conflicts, and they should be given permission to enter protected areas and towns.
ICSSI calls the Iraqi government, the Kurdistan Regional Government and all armed factions involved in the conflict in the north of Iraq not to expose civilians of minorities in general, and Shabaks in particular, to attacks and threats. Extremist Sunnis have systematically killed, displaced, and threatened the Chaldo-Assyrian, Yazidi, and Shabak communities in recent years, and the rise of ISIS has resulted in the killing and kidnapping of Turkmens and Yazidis. Over the past two days, Christian communities have been threatened, and almost the total population of Qaraqosh and Karemlesh has been evacuated after clashes between the Kurdish Peshmerga and their armed opponents in the outskirts of those Christian towns. Only 4 priests, the bishop and about 100 people refused to leave Qaraqosh, which is now surrounded by ISIS and other rebels.
This statement aims to draw attention to the fact that Shabak villages in the province of Mosul are particularly and increasingly exposed to repeated attacks by armed groups that control the region. While other towns of Nineveh plain are enjoying some protection by the Peshmerga, most Shabak villages are now without any protection or humanitarian aid. There are no organizations to provide the urgent relief needed. There is virtually no support for civilians that are still living in these villages, leaving women, children and the elderly especially at risk of being abused or killed by insurgents. In the last few days, villages like Amrkan, Krmelc and Kokjla, as well as other neighborhoods within the city of Mosul itself, have seen frequent attacks by armed groups — some Shabaks have been kidnapped and killed because of their faith. Large numbers of Shabak families have moved to the Kurdistan region or to the Nineveh Plain, where other minorities are enjoying the protection of Peshmerga forces, but many other Shabak have chosen to stay in their areas so as not to face the poor living conditions of IDPs. Others are stuck at security checkpoints waiting for approval by the authorities to enter the Kurdistan region.
According to the Shabak Democratic Assembly, the number of Shabak in Iraq at present is about five hundred thousand people, however there are no accurate and reliable statistics as to their real number. The assembly also confirms that the majority of the Shabak are followers of the Shiite sect, indeed after 2003, they established some Shiite mosques and religious centers in Mosul. Shabaks tend to live on the Left Coast of Mosul (east of the Tigris River), and in the northern and eastern areas of Ninewa Governorate: Algazaer, Numaniya, Tamim, Aden, Shuhada, Karama and Jerusalem. About 70 Shabak villages extend along the left coast of the Tigris River, Mount Khazar Noran and the Nimrod, and large numbers live in the the areas of Bartalah, Qaraqosh and Ba’shiqah.
Since 2003, there has been an ongoing political dispute about the affiliation of the Shabak. The official position of the Kurds is that the Shabak are Kurdish, but many Shabak deny this. They never considered their areas to be disputed territories between Ninawa governorate and KRG, and rejected the idea of joining the Kurdistan Regional Government. As a result, since the fall of Mosul to insurgents, and after the withdrawal of the Iraqi Army from Mosul, the Shabak minority has become one of the most vulnerable groups in the north of Iraq.
The Shabak Democratic Assembly, the sole legitimate representative of the Shabak in Iraq, believes that the Shabak must coexist within a unified democratic Iraq. Dr. Al-Qaddo, the secretary general of the Shabak Democratic Assembly and Chairman of the Iraqi Minorities Group, stated that “When Kurdish troops move into Shabak areas, they try to define inhabitants as “Kurd Shabaks” but this effectively steals their true identity”. The decade-long political dispute about the origin and affiliation of the Shabaks greatly affects the current humanitarian situation and the future of the Shabaks in Iraq — the perception that the Shabaks are part of the influential Shiite forces in Iraq has made them a target for insurgents, especially extremists.
Even if Iraqis disagree on whether the Shabak are Arabs, Kurds or Turkmens, all of them agree – especially those who live in and among the Shabak – that they are first and foremost a peaceful group who have lived in this country side by side all nationalities and religions. Their long history of peaceful coexistence with others should exclude them from ethnic and political conflicts.