Archbishop: EU funds for education can return Iraq to tolerance

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Christian churches in Iraq are pushing to get European funding for educational NGOs and religious schools in the country, something that can ultimately increase employment and return the country to its tolerant, multiconfessional tradition, says Archbishop Bashar Warda in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV.

Bashar Warda is the Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq. He is currently in Brussels to meet with Council President Herman Van Rompuy, MEPs and other EU officials.

He was speaking with EURACTIV's Craig Willy.

Why did you come to Brussels?

Well, we are here to talk about the future of our Christian community in Iraq, about the main problems we have been facing since 2003 and the ones we will face in the future. We also want to pass the message to the European Parliament, have them know directly [and] witness some of the stories that we are experiencing there.

Hopefully, the MEPs we meet will speak with their colleagues to tell them what is going on there. Because the Iraqi politicians will tell the story as it suits their programmes, visions and ideas. It doesn't have to be a lie but it's not the whole truth.

You will also be meeting with the cabinet of Commission President José Manuel Barroso and with the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. What will you be telling them?

I need to tell them that there is a possibility for help. There is a possibility to pass on the story of the people there, the minorities. We are not only speaking about Christians. We are speaking about other minorities.

There is a possibility of telling this story and there is a possibility of solidarity. Solidarity is a way of helping. When we know that there are other people who are also interested and do care about our situation, it helps us in living [through] our problems.

When we talk about oppression of minorities in the world, we don't often think of Christians. What difficulties do you face in Iraq?

It has been well-known that Christians are the most persecuted community in the world. We have been persecuted in 33-34 countries at various levels. And the difficulties that we have in Iraq, that we are living in a religious majority and political majority which is, well, in a sense against or at least makes our life very difficult. So it's not an easy situation.

Is Article 2 of the Iraqi Constitution establishing Islam as the state religion and a 'foundation source of legislation' problematic in this respect?

Problematic in the long-term. For building a democratic state you have to offer, for example, freedom of faith and conscience. We have freedom of worship but not freedom of conscience.

That's the main issue. Sharia will not allow you at all to change your religion if you would like to do so.

Are you allowed to build churches or Christian schools?

Yes, yes. But that is one of the messages that we want to pass [on to the EU]: To direct the funds towards building schools so we will have an education system that is open, respectful of human rights, respectful of human integrity, respectful of others who are different from us. These educational schools will contribute a lot to the well-being of the Iraqi people and Iraqi society in the future.

Because our aim within our schools is to rebuild the 'Iraqi personality': the open-minded Iraqi personality which was always there.

What specific help do you want from Brussels?

I would hope that by the end of the day people will be encouraged to invest more with the NGOs that are working to rebuild the educational system. That would be the aim.

Because I am fed up of always reporting and saying and telling the story. At a certain point people would like to see concrete solutions. We need jobs. We need to convince people to stay, and of course security is one of the issues, but that means economic security, social security, educational security… It's a whole parcel, all together.

You mentioned that you wanted to build a school that uses the International Baccalaureate (IB). Are there are no schools currently providing that in Iraq?

No, not yet. We will be the first ones interested in such a programme and we will hand over a letter of interest during this year.

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