As 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect with you on the significant accomplishments we have achieved together over the last year. Our tireless advocacy for the protection and preservation of Christianity in the Middle East has resulted in a number of significant achievements that have made a difference for our brothers and sisters who continue to suffer unimaginable injustices:
Historic Genocide Designation
IDC played an integral role bringing about the actions of the U.S. government to recognize the treatment of Christians and other religious minorities under ISIS as a genocide. IDC partnered with the Knights of Columbus on the launch of Stop the Christian Genocide, a major public relations campaign urging Secretary of State John Kerry not to exclude Christians from a declaration of genocide, and was signed by over 140,000 people. The petition was promoted by a nationwide TV ad that included quotes by Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio endorsing a genocide declaration for Christians in the Middle East. In the weeks that followed, more than 80 articles in major publications and news outlets covered IDC’s involvement with the passage of H. Con. Res. 75 and Kerry’s genocide declaration.
On March 14th the United States Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 75, known as the “genocide resolution” which was introduced at IDC’s National Leadership Convention in September of 2015. On March 17th, Secretary of State John Kerry made an official designation recognizing that U.S.’s belief that the actions of ISIS against minorities constitutes genocide. This designation came only one week after IDC and the Knights of Columbus submitted a nearly 300 page report to the State Department chronicling the genocide of Christians under ISIS. The report unearthed many stories that the world had not heard. Like the story of Christian women who have been forced into sexual slavery and listed on ISIS slave menus that put a price on ‘Christian or Yazidi’ women by age.
Major International Conference at the United Nations
IDC co-sponsored with the Holy See Mission to the United Nations and Citizen Go a three day International Congress on Religious Freedom, “#WeAreN2016”, at the United Nations. The conference gathered high-level dignitaries, bishops and missionaries, lay experts, witnesses and victims. Panelists included Carl & Marsha Mueller, Parents of Kayla Mueller, a young aid worker and ISIS hostage killed in Syria, Sister Maria de Guadalupe, Missionary in Syria, and H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Nuncio of the Holy See to the UN. Advocates at the conference delivered more than 400,000 signatures to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office, in a bid to convince the Security Council to declare that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
2016 Beyond Genocide National Advocacy Convention
More than 50 Members of Congress attended In Defense of Christians’ annual international convention, addressing religious persecution of Christians and other ethno-religious minorities in the region. The three-day event, entitled “Beyond Genocide: Preserving the Future of Christianity in the Middle East”, also garnered significant participation from political leaders, human rights experts, international activists and academics, including former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Nuncio the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, human rights activist Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ashur Eskyra.
Three historic resolutions for the protection and preservation of Christians in the Middle East were introduced to coincide with IDC’s National Advocacy Convention, including Congressman Trott’s Coptic Churches Accountability Act; Congressman Fortenberry’s resolution on a Nineveh Plain Province in Iraq; and Congressman Hanna’s resolution highlighting the political and refugee crisis in Lebanon. In follow up to the convention, IDC launched an online grassroots campaign to generate support for the resolutions that IDC’s supporters advocated for at the 2016 convention. IDC’s supporters sent over 2,000 letters to their Members of Congress.
IDC Fact Finding Mission to Iraq and Lebanon
The IDC team visited Lebanon and Iraq, meeting with religious and community leaders as well as displaced Christians relocated from the conflict zones of Iraq and Syria. The trip was a follow-up fact finding mission to the nearly 300-page report published by IDC and the Knights of Columbus on March 10th. IDC President Toufic Baaklini, Senior Adviser Strategic Initiatives and External Affairs Kirsten Evans, Director of Government Relations Kristina Olney, and Board Member Alexis Moukarzel hand-delivered the document to over half a dozen leaders of churches, as well as Middle Eastern Christian political leaders in both countries. Additionally, the team visited the refugee camps in Erbil, Iraq run by Shlomo, whose exceptional work chronicling the Christian community displaced by ISIS was an indispensable resource for the March 10 report.
IDC chapters around the country expanded, and we now have 14 chapters in Arizona, Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Sacramento, Kansas City, Wichita, and Houston. Our chapter leaders hosted ecumenical prayer services, film screenings of the documentary “Our Last Stand” launched by In Altum Productions in partnership with In Defense of Christians, with a DC premiere screening at The Heritage Foundation as well as screenings in Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Wichita, New Jersey, and at the Swedish Parliament. IDC’s Arizona and Colorado chapters also succeeded in passing state legislation recognizing the ongoing persecution of Middle Eastern Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities by ISIS. In April, the Arizona State Senate unanimously adopted a resolution insisting that leaders in Washington D.C. pursue stronger, more concrete responses to the crisis. IDC’s Colorado Chapter also introduced a resolution to the Colorado State Legislature to express solidarity with the persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
At Christmas time, we wanted to remind people that as they celebrate with their loved ones, Christians in Syria and Iraq have lost their homes, churches, and some even their families, and will not be able to celebrate Christmas as they used to. However, we wanted to offer hope and a glimpse of what Christmas could actually be in Syria and Iraq, by showing what is still like in Lebanon, through a video that our team filmed there.
Through your support of IDC, we hope to bring Christmas back to all Christians in the Middle East.
With many thanks for your support, and wishing you and your families a Happy New Year!
In Defense of Christians