The Future of Religious Minorities in Iraq


This week one of our Trustees, Elliot Grainger, was invited to present an academic paper at a conference in Iraq hosted by the University of Kurdistan Hawler in Erbil. The conference was seeking to develop academic debate and discussion around the role of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the wider context, and the possible direction it may take in the future.

Elliot wrote a paper, which will be published shortly, and argued his point on a panel that was looking at the relationship between the Kurdish majority (namely Sunni Muslim Kurds) and the other ethno-religious minorities in the region.

The conference was a great arena for the Foundation to explore current trends in academic research, as well as meet people working across the region on its development in business, government and education – and we hope that several new partnerships may emerge from the event.

The Abstract from the paper is below:

The Kurdish tolerance of others: an established attitude or simply politically convenient?

Elliot L. Grainger

This essay is written as part of a contribution to a conference panel on ‘Iraqi-Kurdistan’s Statehood Aspirations and Ethno-Religious minorities.’ The essay therefore tries to break down the distinctions between the ethno-religious minorities to see how these relationships have been formed and defined in the historical praxis within Kurdish politics of tolerance and acceptance of their minorities. The essay is limited to English language research texts, and is frustrated by a limited scholarship examining Kurdish relationships with their minorities, instead being dominated by the detail of the separate religions and their socio-political organizational structures. The essay investigates the concepts of ethnicity and nationality viewed through the prism of Kurdish ethnicity and desire for nationhood, and how this distinguishes itself from ‘others’.

This results in a conclusion that differentiation in the region is primarily religious, and not ethnic but tribal, the exception being the Christian and much larger Turkmen populations. In conclusion it identifies the Kurdish relationship with their minorities as an established attitude of political expediency. It is not a tolerance of others, but an acceptance of their existence. The majority Muslim Kurds live alongside, not with, their other minorities, and this is the historical norm. Furthermore, when referring this to the conference outline of the aspiration for Kurdish independence, the author hypothesises that the Kurdish leadership needs to create an ethnogenesis of a Kurdish nation that is not religious. Finally the author states that the divisions between tribes are false, that the ethnic markers were defined in another time, and that the mountain peoples in the north of Iraq have a Kurdish link and commonality, that could and should be fostered for a stable region in the future.

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