The Western media has missed a giant step forward in the Middle East: The Kurds have held the first Holocaust Remembrance Day in the history of Iraq and Kurdistan. It is a remarkable act when you consider the huge degree of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism in the region—and the Kurds did it without getting anything in return.
The Kurdish Ministry of Religion has a Jewish representative who led the event in Erbil, the capitol of the autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq. A garden was used to display photos of the persecution that Jews faced. It included the showing of a short film, the lowering of the Kurdish flag to half-mast, the lighting of six candles to represent all 6 million Jewish victims and prayers.
The leader of the Department for Religious Coexistence, Mariwan Naqshbandi, said the Kurds feel they have a “duty to support the Jewish religion. When you look at the towns as well as the villages in Kurdistan, you see many Jewish families have survived.”
The official set the reopening of a temple in Iraqi Kurdistan as an eventual objective. The Jewish representative from the Ministry of Religion said they’d start with a Jewish cultural center to educate the population about the religion and that a temple would come at a time when it is safe to do so.
“The first-ever Holocaust Remembrance Day observance in Kurdistan is a natural sequel to the first-ever remembrance of the Jews expelled from Iraq, which occurred on November 30 and garnered an overwhelming and unanimous amount of support from community, party and religious leaders in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),” Clarion Project was told by Zach Huff, an advisor to the KRG’s Ministry of Religion’s Jewish Affairs Directorate.
The Kurds are encouraging the 300,000 Kurdish Jews in the world to come to northern Iraq, with the majority currently living in Israel.
To fully appreciate the significance of this step, it must be understood how Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism is breathtakingly high in the world, especially the Muslim world.
A 2014 survey found that 63% of the Middle East and North Africa either believes the Holocaust is a myth or is greatly exaggerated. Only 8% have heard of the Holocaust and believe in its historicity. And it’s getting worse: It found that young people are less aware of the Holocaust.
It’s depressing to think about: In today’s globalized age, access to the undeniable historical record of the Holocaust is only a click away. The truth is more accessible than ever, but we see the youth becoming more ignorant to the dangerous lies pushed by Islamists and other anti-Semites.
By swimming against this negative trend, the Kurds are gardeners of peace. They are planting seeds that will grow truth and tolerance in a region desperately in need of it.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.