Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkul is one of the most important clergymen in the Chaldean Church and one of the most influential representatives of the Christian community in all of Iraq. The diocese of Kirkuk has always been a centerpiece of Iraqi Christendom, its former Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako having become the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church in 2013. This interview with Bishop Mirkis was conducted on 19 March 2015 in Sulaimaniya, Iraq.
The main topics discussed are the current refugee crisis and the future role of Christians in Iraq.
- [0:00:00 - 0:01:14] Mirkis: Christians are always the victim of other problems. They went to Bagdad in the 1960s, they came back to the north 20 years ago and now the same thing [happens again]. 1915 - 2015; [it is just] the same. In Mosul, [there are] no more Christians, in Ninive valley [are] no more Christians. And bombing from the sky does not change anything [for] the refugees here. In Kirkuk, we thought [it would take] only two or three weeks, then [the refugees] will go back to their villages. And now for eight months, nothing has changed and we don’t know what will change [over the] next year.
- [0:01:14 - 0:02:45] Mirkis: In the church of Father Jens, you will see 24, 25 families. In Kirkuk, we have 300 families. The total of refugees in Sulaimaniya are between 400 and 500 families. We have big problems because the Church is the only institution. Even the government, they could do more, but they didn’t. They did not help as we wanted, as we hoped they would do. We face new situations every day, we don’t know what will be our future. Many Christians prepare themselves to emigrate toward Europe, Australia, America. Two thirds of the Christians of Iraq already left and the majority of those who stayed are displaced inside Iraq.
- [0:02:45 - 0:03:08] Mirkis: I think our job, our duty as Christians is not to go with a faction but to balance between them. Our job is to be a bridge. We have a good relationship with everyone.
- [0:03:08 - 0:04:45] Mirkis: Our big problem right now are the university students. In Kurdistan, the official language is Kurdish. There are some sensitivity regarding the Arabic language. So if you are Arabic speaker, you have no chance to get accepted at university. So all of them come to Kirkuk for university. 152 students I have right now. If you calculate 20 US-Dollars per person per day, you how much it costs each month.
- [0:04:45 - 0:06:59] Mirkis: [about the relation of Christans and Sunni Arabs] This year it is better than last year. There were car bombs last year but now it’s less. The Sunni are a minority in Kirkuk and I think they accept to be a minority. So we don’t have problems with them. They are controlled, there were many persons who... There is a tension, you feel it. Journalist: Human rights organizations like Amnesty International have criticized the Kurds for not letting Sunni Arabs return to their villages and for destroying and looting houses of civilians. Did you witness this in Kirkuk as well? Mirkis: Of course. I think the balance is very difficult for our Governor. When refugees came, I met him to [convince him to] accept some Christian refugees. He said, ‘if I accept Christians, I must accept the others [as well]. The others, I have no confidence with. I don’t want the Sunnis to become majority in Kirkuk.’ Three months ago, he said ‘we have 400.000 refugees here in Kirkuk.
- [0:06:59 - 0:07:47] Mirkis: I had a problem once. Eleven persons came to the border checkpoint. They were crying and begging us to have a permission to come to Kirkuk. But at the checkpoint they had the order not to let anyone in. When I called the Governor’s office, they said ‘there are not eleven Christians, there are 5.000 persons. Eleven Christians but 5.000 Sunnis from all the destroyed villages. If we accept eleven persons, we have to open the door for all the 5.000.
- [0:07:47 - 0:08:30] Mirkis: Christians were always good citizens of this country. They worked to build Iraq even if it has only 90 years. This feeling is not true in everybody. The Kurds think of Kurdistan, the Shia of Shiastan, the Sunni of Sunnistan. Right now, we only have minorities, communists and Christians. When I met a communist friend, I said to him ‘only communists and Christians want to save Iraq because we have no place to go’.
- [0:08:30 - 0:09:17] Mirkis: So, if I wanted to save my children or to save my family, I will [crawl] on my legs to go out . But if I think with my heart and my intelligence, I think even Moslems need me, Iraqis needs me. I am Iraqi up to my finger nails, one hundred and one percent. If I love my country, I will try everything to save it. But if I feel foreigner in my own country, I can do nothing.
- [0:09:17 - 0:09:44] Mirkis: Religion is the most important thing because nationalism failed. If you choose Islam, choose Christianity, Orthodoxy, Catholicism - this is the first step to be fanatic. We need relativity in nationalism and in religion.
- [0:09:44 - 0:10:29] Mirkis: We need doctors and engineers to build our country - but we did not care about human sciences. Nothing. Our universities don’t care about philosophy. Since one thousand years, Arabs persecute philosophers. If you only count on the people giving fatwas - you have to eat this, you have to sleep like that, you are in hell. And this Arab Spring put us in hell.