Washington DC, December 16, 2015:
“We are here today because ISIS continues to commit genocide against Christians, and because the White House is considering a public genocide declaration that would exclude Christians,” were the opening words of Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) earlier today at a gathering of members of Congress and renowned scholars on genocide and the plight of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. “Any failure by President Obama to recognize the ongoing genocide against Christians would be irresponsible, indefensible, and unconscionable,” the Congressman continued.
The event was sponsored by In Defense of Christians (IDC), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of Christians and Christian culture in the Middle East, in response to the rising tide of Congressional legislation surrounding the terrifying plight of religious minorities under ISIS, and rumors of a forthcoming statement by the Obama administration on the matter. “In August of 2014 the Iraqi parliament decried the atrocities and crimes against humanity targeting religious minorities under ISIS as a genocide. Many others have done the same, including Pope Francis, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the world’s leading international association of genocide scholars. In Defense of Christians has been working hard to ensure that the United States government, both Congress and the State Department, do the same,” stated IDC Executive Director Kirsten Evans when opening the conference.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Caucus for Religious Minorities in the Middle East, spoke of the systematic extermination of Christians and other religious minorities under ISIS and the obligation of the United States to exhibit moral leadership on the issue. “Future generations will look at us and ask ‘did they do anything?’” Eshoo observed. As the only member of Congress of Armenian and Assyrian decent, she added, “This is history for my family that is repeating itself all over again,” referencing the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who in September introduced House Con. Resolution 75 calling upon the United States government to publically recognize the atrocities committed against religious minorities under ISIS as genocide and crimes against humanity, added, “We cannot underestimate the moral authority the United States has when we simply utter what is true.”
Human rights lawyer and leading expert on minority rights in the Middle East, Nina Shea, pointed out that according to a recent poll, 55% of Americans believe Christians are undergoing a genocide in Iraq and Syria. Ms. Shea argued that the current genocide did not start with the rise of ISIS, but was an after-effect of the American invasion of Iraq, which spurred heightened sectarian violence and resentment toward Christians leading to mass killings, kidnappings, and attacks on churches in Iraq. Shea called on the Obama administration to recognize the genocide in order to aid future issues of land, resettlement and reparations that will be needed to preserve the ancestral Christian presence in the area.
Dr. Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, argued the case for genocide is clear for Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities under ISIS, both in intention and in crimes committed. He emphasized the importance of the use of the word “genocide,” in getting international recognition since words like “ethnic cleansing” or “atrocities” have no international legal recognition.
Loay Mikhael, IDC Special Advisor on Iraq and an Iraqi Christian himself, told the story of his people. “After the American invasion of Iraq, many of our Arab countrymen began to identify Iraqi Christians with the West’s intervention in Iraq. Our Christian identity caused us to be quickly identified with Iraq’s Western enemies. In a place we have called our own for thousands of years, we suddenly became looked upon as outsiders.” Mikhael told the stories of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Christians, systematic rape, execution, and destruction of Christian homes and property that ISIS has besieged on the region to eradicate it of its Christian heritage. “ISIS has not hesitated to declare to the world that it has waged a war on ‘the nation of the cross,’ beheading Coptic Christians, Ethiopian Christians, and Assyrian Christians, before the global public, simply because they would not convert to Islam… If we don’t do anything urgently Iraq will be empty of Christians.”
President Emeritus of the Institute of Global Engagement, Dr. Chris Seiple, stated that the Middle East as a whole will suffer if Christians are allowed to be extinct since they served as beacons of progress by promoting diversity, women’s empowerment and cross-religious understanding which both the Eastern and Western worlds need to build lasting peace.
Both Dr, Randel Everett, President of 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, and Mark Tooley, President of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, spoke of the American imperative to stand in solidarity with the persecuted and defenseless. Dr. Everett emphasized that American churches need to do more to understand the critical situation for Christians in the Middle East in order to identify with them as a community.
Congressman Rohrabacher (R-CA) called for a special protection for persecuted religious communities under ISIS by granting easier access to asylum in the United States. “It is not about a test of religion,” the Congressman argued, “it is about special protection for victims of targeted and systematic persecution.”
Asked about the recent Holocaust Museum report which identified the Yazidi community, but not other religious communities, as victims of genocide under ISIS, Dr. Stanton answered that while the report was one of the finest he had seen, it was limited. Because of the short time frame and limited geography of the study, the report could not be considered to be all inclusive nor all conclusive of the treatment of religious minorities under ISIS.
When asked what American Christians can do to help their Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Ms. Shea responded that prayer and sending aid is important, but political advocacy is also needed. Americans must press their elected officials to take moral and political leadership to ensure that the safety and preservation of all religious minorities in Iraq and Syria is a priority of U.S. foreign policy. “To Secretary Kerry, Samantha Power, and President Obama I ask, ‘Where are you?” she concluded. “And to Speaker Paul Ryan, I say, ‘Pass House Resolution 75 now!'”
Watch here IDC’s #StoptheChristianGenocide filmed on location in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.