WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and Ambassador Hans Brattskar, permanent representative of Norway to the UN. © Ivars Kupcis/WCC

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and Ambassador Hans Brattskar, permanent representative of Norway to the UN. © Ivars Kupcis/WCC


Analyzing efforts to protect religious minorities and build peace in Syria and Iraq, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) presented a joint study on protection needs of religious and ethnic communities and groups in Syria and Iraq. The findings were announced on 12 December to the media and public at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The impact of conflicts on civilian populations in Iraq and Syria is immense, forcing the displacement of many, and causing trauma from violence, loss or injury of loved ones, sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, ongoing insecurity and persecution. The WCC-NCA study contributes to the understanding of protection-related needs of communities and groups from Syria and Iraq, calling on humanitarian actors to attune, coordinate and harmonize their efforts to provide relevant life-saving assistance and sustainable long-term solutions for all society groups in these countries.

Conflict dynamics in Syria and Iraq impact some groups more than others, revealed Arne Sæverås, NCA advisor for Peace and Reconciliation. “Some minorities are being targeted just because of their identity, cleansing the areas from them. There is intentional targeting for extinction of some groups, for their assimilation or displacement from definite areas because of demographic and political reasons.”

Minorities have been also been considered “soft targets” - or people vulnerable or unprotected against seizure of their properties and lands,  Sæverås added. “Minority groups are being targeted also in order to do a revenge and provocation to major power-holders.” All this affects minority communities - men, women and children - in many ways, and there is insufficient focus on different needs of these groups.

One of the important indications of the report is that removal of ISIS is not enough to secure peace and the return of displaced people to Iraq because of inter-communal tensions and unresolved issues of power-sharing and land distribution in areas where minority communities traditionally have lived.

Religious and ethnic communities and groups are victims of this man-made disaster, and we see that most affected communities in Iraq are non-Muslim communities - Christians and Yezidis, shared Fr Emanuel Youkhana, CAPNI-Christian Aid Programme for Northern Iraq. However, from day one of this crisis, people are living with the hope that this disaster will come to an end and people will be able to return to their homes, said Youkhana. “As Christians we can sometimes be helpless, but never  hopeless.”

According to Youkhana, the challenge ahead is to rebuild the trust in affected people, and to restore the rich mosaic of different religions and ethnicities living together – as Christians, Yezidis, Kakais and Muslims in the Nineveh Plain, representing Assyrian, Chaldean, Kurd, Shabak ethnicities among others. “Our task is to keep this rich diversity in Iraq, the future of which is under question now,” said Youkhana, adding that it is not an easy task, but a must for the peaceful future of the region.

“We are concerned about Christians – but we are not concerned only about them,” stated WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. Christians and churches are a gift to the Middle East region and they need to continue to be present there, he said. “But nobody can be saved alone in this region - there is a future only if it is for everyone. We cannot argue for continuation of the agenda of military war just for the sake of one group. We call for peace for everybody - including the Christians,” said Tveit.

The report “The Protection Needs of Minorities from Syria and Iraq” was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and presentation of the report to media and public at the Palais de Nations in Geneva was organized by the WCC in cooperation with the mission of Norway to the United Nations.

The WCC and NCA report "The protection needs of minorities from Syria and Iraq"

Removal of IS alone won’t secure return of Iraqi and Syrian minorities, says WCC report