February 2021 | By Joe Snell
WASHINGTON, D.C. — An effort to document the population of rural villages in Iraq’s Amadiya district aims to curb the region’s declining population.
The study by Shlama Foundation, a nonprofit based in Erbil, is part of an ongoing project to continually track Assyrian Chaldean Syriac population figures.
“A nation and its traditions can’t just survive on urban cities,” said Shlama Foundation board member Noor Matti. “Without rural villages, a vital part dies and is never brought back. It’s time now to get as much assistance to these villages as possible.”
Documentation work in Amadiya, a district in Iraq’s Duhok Governorate, began in late December when a team of three Shlama members initiated discussions with village mukhtars (head of the village). Despite the rural area having less than 3,000 people that call it home year-round, Amadiya houses one of the largest number of inhabitable Assyrian villages in Iraq and has remained an important region to preserve the culture.
In total, the assessment found 2,992 people live across 48 inhabitable villages. Of these villages, 36 host families year-round. The remaining villages only have people living in them during the spring and summer months.
Despite a large number of concentrated villages in the region, the study confirmed the population is decreasing quickly. Twenty villages have been abandoned due to wars, ethnic cleansing and a sharp increase in the number of people moving to city centers over the past 70 years.
Launched in 2017, Shlama’s population project updates figures of Assyrian villages on a rolling basis. Occasionally, like with the Amadiya survey, population figures for an entire district are refreshed.
“The project is a response to NGOs overlooking smaller villages or being completely unaware of their existence,” reads a statement by Shlama on their website.
With these figures, Matti said villages will attract more attention and with that attention, more support.
“We always knew that most villages have suffered a population loss, but it still hurt when it was verified,” Matti said. “We want to, at a minimum, halt the population loss and eventually reverse it.”
All major areas have been documented with the exception of Baghdad, Matti said. Shlama plans to collect figures from Iraq’s capital by the end of the year.
Only two decades ago, Iraq was home to more than 1.5 million Assyrians. Today, that number is fewer than 400,000 and steadily declining. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kahdimi urged Assyrians and other ethnically indigenous groups to return to the country; however, some cited that security concerns and a lack of reconstruction efforts remain impediments to their safe passage home.