The chronic and systematic expropriation of Assyrian land in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) has been a long-term problem that continues unabated in the present. Speaking to the API by phone today, Christian Assyrian residents from Ankawa reported that approximately 1000 dunams of agricultural lands belonging to local farmers have been seized by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities on or around April 27, 2021. The expropriated farmlands are located in close proximity to Erbil International Airport, and were seized without any notice given to the legal owners. Local Assyrian farmers continue to hold the deeds to the lands, but have not been offered compensation despite the harm caused to their livelihoods. These seizures have effectively robbed local Assyrian farmers of their livelihoods and immediately threaten their ability to remain in their ancestral lands.
According to locals, the land rights have been granted to a privately-owned construction company based in Erbil called the Lalav Group, which on April 26 announced plans to build "villas, luxury apartments, a hotel, and a mall." There are numerous cases across the IKR where Kurdish officials, individuals, or developers have seized Assyrian lands on which they build new properties for either personal or commercial use.
"Our crops were destroyed. They [the KRG] didn't even let us harvest our crops," said one local farmer affected by the recent seizures. When the farmers confronted the developers on site, they were informed that the order was issued by KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, who is believed to have links to the company.
Vast areas of land in Ankawa belonging to Assyrians have been confiscated by the KRG over the last decade and awarded to Kurdish contractors for housing projects. These homes were later sold to non-Assyrians, and the original owners of the lands were never compensated. These housing projects have led to a sharp increase in non-Assyrian populations in Ankawa. Whereas the population of non-Assyrians in Ankawa was estimated to be approximately 5% in 2006, this population has now risen to about 20%. Residents feel that these new housing projects are part of a KRG strategy of engineering demographic change, already successfully implemented in other parts of the IKR.
Similarly, both the Erbil International Airport and the United Nations compound in Ankawa were built on lands owned by the Chaldean Catholic Church and local Assyrian farmers which were confiscated by KRG authorities without compensation.
Assyrians seeking to overturn the occupation of their lands have exhausted all available legal and political means of seeking recourse against illegal confiscations, including frequent appeals to KRG courts and other bodies. From 1991 to 2021, not a single order—the majority of which have decreed that the original Assyrian inhabitants are the rightful owners of the land being discussed in a given case—has been honored and enforced by KRG authorities. Despite overwhelming evidence of chronic theft of Assyrian land, much of which was facilitated by the KRG, Kurdish officials deny any involvement.
The intention and scale of the appropriation of Assyrian lands in the IKR constitutes a targeted and systematic attempt to ethnically cleanse the Assyrian population from their ancestral homelands, by appropriating property to which they are legally entitled and for which they possess deeds. There are serious concerns that these land seizures will contribute to the continued decline of the Assyrian population from their historic homeland in northern Iraq.