The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has imposed a discriminatory new regulation requiring all business owners from the Assyrian-majority city of Ankawa, located in the Erbil Province, to renew their business licenses with the Director of the Erbil Center District for a fee. This new regulation applies exclusively to Ankawa, despite the fact that a total of ten districts are under the Erbil Center District's jurisdiction.
Previously, business owners from Ankawa were able to renew their licenses free of charge at the mayor's office in Ankawa. The new order was issued on January 23, 2018, yet those interviewed by API representatives claim that locals only became aware of its existence earlier today.
"People didn't know about it until someone went to the mayor's office to renew his license, and then he was told to go to the Erbil Center District," a resident of Ankawa said to the API.
"The application process is now much longer and unnecessary," a local business owner explained. "Usually, attorneys handle these renewals. I spoke to my attorney this morning and he said he's already heard that the officials at the Erbil Center District expect bribes in exchange for processing."
Ankawa, also known as Ainkawa, is a predominantly Assyrian-populated suburb of Erbil. Its population is now estimated to be approximately 60,000. Roughly 80% of the town's population is Christian; the majority of its Christian residents are adherents to the Chaldean Catholic Church. Located just outside Erbil, the town is considered to be the last Christian Assyrian stronghold in the Kurdistan Region.
The new order targeting Assyrian shop owners is the latest form of discrimination targeting Assyrians in Ankawa.
Ankawa's capital gains tax on property sales are the highest in the Kurdistan Region. KRG officials justify the tax difference by pointing to Ankawa's growing tourism, as many foreigners elect to stay in Ankawa when visiting the region. An unlawful tax amount is collected from Ankawa residents when they sell their property. According to residents and representatives, this tax rate for Ankawa is ten percent of the sale, whereas in all other parts of the KRI, the tax is only six percent.
Complaints have been filed with KRG officials about the excess taxes. One Assyrian politician interviewed by the API was told by a KRG official that this was a form of jizya tax, justified because Ankawa is a Christian town.
Business owners in Ankawa also expressed fears and frustrations regarding various discriminatory practices, including denial of permits based on political affiliation, required display of KRG/KDP memorabilia, and harassment from the KDP political police, the Asayish.
In October of 2015, thousands of Ankawa residents took to the streets to protest discriminatory laws and practices, including the preferential tax rate, and demanded the resignation of the city's KDP mayor Jalal Habib, appointed to office by the Governor of Erbil.
The official protest statement read:
"We demand that unjust tax rates in Ankawa be reduced to match the tax rates in other regions." Read the full statement here.
The protest statement was delivered to the Governor of Erbil and the KRG Minister of Interior, as well as the U.S. Consulate. Residents say all of their demands went unanswered, and Habib remains the city's mayor.