Congressional Leaders, Rights Groups Urge White House to Characterize ISIS Attacks on Christians ‘Genocide’

WASHINGTON—With Christmas just days away, 30 U.S. Representatives, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), have called on the Obama Administration to condemn the ongoing Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) attacks against Christians and other Middle East minorities as “genocide,” reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

 ANCA Graphic urging U.S. to properly characterize ISIS attacks against Christians as ‘genocide'
ANCA Graphic urging U.S. to properly characterize ISIS attacks against Christians as ‘genocide’

The Dec. 23 letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry comes in response to reports that the Obama Administration is set to characterize the ISIS attacks on Yazidis as genocide, but will stop short of similarly referencing the murder and destruction of Christians and other minority groups. “While it is hardly possible to overstate the brutality of ISIL’s attempts to destroy the Yazidis, an overly narrow finding would wrongly discount similar violence directed against other minorities in the region, with likely dire consequences for those minorities,” noted the letter.

The Congressional letter also cited the recent U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report that “call[ed] on the U.S. government to designate the Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Turkmen, and Shabak communities of Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide by ISIL.”

A copy of the letter is available here.

The effort is part of a broad outcry of concern by congressional leaders, genocide experts, and rights groups, including the ANCA, to secure a clear U.S. genocide determination regarding the anti-Christian atrocities, including calls for passage of various U.S. House and Senate genocide measures and Obama Administration’s determination.


Hovsepian: It’s Deja Vu

In a recent interview with the LA Daily News, ANCA Western Region Chair Nora Hovsepian outlined why the ANCA and Armenian Americans are working hard with Assyrian, Chaldean, Greek, and an array of human rights groups to secure proper characterization of the ISIS genocide against Christians. “With respect to what’s happening in the Middle East now, it’s deja vu all over again. It’s like chapter two,” Hovsepian said. “Unfortunately, the United States’ policy at this point is baffling to us. Of course it’s a genocide against [Christians] as well. One of the reasons why it’s happening now is because it happened 100 years ago. [Turkey] got away with it then, with zero accountability.”

The complete LA Daily News article is available here.

Last week, ANCA Legislative Affairs Director Raffi Karakashian joined In Defense of Christians (IDC) Executive Director Kirsten Evans, A Demand For Action Executive Director Steve Oshana, and renowned genocide expert Greg Stanton at a meeting with White House officials to make the case for the proper genocide designation. On the same day, ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian participated in a White House briefing on Syrian refugees, urging the United States to close gaps in aid to Armenian and other Christian victims of ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups.


‘In Defense of Christians’ Press Conference Spotlights Need for Immediate Action

The Dec. 16 Capitol Hill press conference, organized by IDC, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of Christians and Christian culture in the Middle East, brought the issue of the ongoing ISIS genocide front and center.

In Defense of Christians, A Demand for Action and ANCA leaders at the White House making the case for a U.S. designation of ISIS anti-Christian attacks as 'genocide'
In Defense of Christians, A Demand for Action, and ANCA leaders at the White House making the case for a U.S. designation of ISIS anti-Christian attacks as ‘genocide’

“When genocide has been committed or is looming, the president and Congress should publicly say so and take robust actions to end it and ensure accountability,” explained Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), speaking at the press conference. “Any failure by President Obama to recognize the ongoing genocide against Christians would be irresponsible, indefensible, and unconscionable.” (Watch the ANCA video here.)

Armenian and Assyrian American Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who, along with Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nev.), serves as co-chair of the House Caucus for Religious Minorities in the Middle East, said, “This is history for my family that is repeating itself all over again. […] Future generations will look at us and ask, ‘Did they do anything?'” (Watch the ANCA video here.)

“We cannot underestimate the moral authority the United States has when we simply utter what is true,” stated Fortenberry, holding a photo of Christians shackled by ISIS abductors prior to their murder. (Watch the ANCA video here.)

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) refuted arguments that labeling the slaughter of Christians as “genocide” is a form of religious bias. “It is not about a test of religion. It is about special protection for victims of targeted and systematic persecution.”

Internationally renowned genocide and human rights expert Dr. Greg Stanton outlined how the ISIS actions against Christians meets the internationally agreed U.N. definition of “genocide,” and went on to explain why that designation is important.

“‘Genocide’ is a much more powerful word than ‘crimes against humanity,’ war crimes, ‘ethnic cleansing,’ or ‘atrocity crimes,'” noted Stanton, citing a 2007 study he and colleagues conducted on the words used in the New York Times to describe the Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur Genocides. “We discovered that as long as ‘ethnic cleansing’ was used, there was no forceful action to stop it. As soon as the situations were called ‘genocide,’ forceful action resulted and ended the killing, except in Darfur where a U.N. Commission of Inquiry rejected the ‘genocide’ word.”

Stanton went on to identify the two most important reasons for the “genocide” designation, explaining first that the word “more strongly justifies our broad coalition military support for Kurdish and Iraqi forces to defeat ISIS”; and second, “members of such groups are much more likely to receive preferential treatment as bona fide refugees under the U.N. Convention and Protocols on the Status of Refugees.”  (Watch the ANCA Video here.)

Nina Shea, the director of the Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom, cited the importance of political advocacy by Christians and all Americans of good conscience in support of passage of congressional legislation characterizing the ISIS attacks as genocide, and ended her remarks with a simple question: “To Secretary Kerry, Samantha Power, and President Obama I ask, ‘Where are you?'”

“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. (Watch the ANCA video here.)

Other experts offering remarks at the press conference included Dr. Randel Everett, president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative; Dr. Chris Seiple, chairman of the Board at the Institute of Global Engagement; Louay Mikhael, IDC special advisor on Iraq; and Mr. Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religious and Democracy.


Broad Coalition in Support of Designating ISIS Anti-Christian Attacks ‘Genocide’

Over the past months, a diverse group of religious, civic, and ethnic groups have petitioned the White House to include Christians in their “genocide” designation when describing ISIS atrocities.

On Nov. 25, the ANCA joined the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac rights group “A Demand for Action,” IDC, and more than 20 organizations in urging swift Obama Administration action. “Calling genocide by its proper name cannot wait for a ruling by a court of law.  Under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide we have an obligation to work toward prevention and punishment,” stated the letter, a copy of which is available here.

On Dec. 4, the Knights of Columbus and Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom led a similar effort urging Kerry to take action. “The United States is rightly viewed as the world’s leading defender of vulnerable minorities, and as an historic safe-haven for those fleeing religious persecution. A declaration of genocide by the State Department is thus a unique opportunity to bring America’s religious communities together to pursue the truth, to support the victims, and to bear witness to the noble principle of ‘Never Again,'” noted the letter, which was co-signed by the ANCA and a number of Armenian-American leaders including His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, prelate, Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America (Eastern); and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, ecumenical director and legate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). A copy of the letter is available here.

In a September 2015 appeal, more than 40 respected experts in the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) called on Congress to designate the ISIS crimes against Christians and other minorities as “genocide” and went further to call for concrete international action to prevent future atrocities. “ISIS leaders should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their crimes. The U.N. Security Council should refer ISIS crimes to the ICC for investigation and prosecution. The U.N. and Regional Organizations should act swiftly and firmly, and follow-up with police force to arrest ISIS leaders,” stated the letter by genocide scholars, available here.

Prior to Chairman Royce’s joint congressional letter, Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) sent his personal appeal to Kerry, questioning the distinction being placed between the plight of Yazidis as opposed to Christians and other minorities targeted by ISIS in the Middle East, stemming primarily from a recent U.S. Holocaust Museum report that focused on Iraq’s Nineveh province as opposed to Iraq and Syria overall. “ISIS targets Christians on the bases of their religious identity, without regard to where they are located. It is imperative that the State Department approach its decision for genocide designation in terms of which religious minorities are being persecuted, rather than where they live,” stated Pompeo.  View Pompeo’s letter here.


Congressional Resolutions Condemning Christian Genocide Abound; Votes Yet to be Scheduled

U.S. Senators and Representatives have introduced a number of resolutions referencing the ISIS actions against Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities as “genocide,” although no vote has yet been scheduled on any of these pieces of legislation.

The resolution with the greatest congressional and grassroots support is led by Congressman Fortenberry and Congresswoman Eshoo. With more than 160 co-sponsors, H.Con.Res.75, which the IDC supports, expresses the “sense of Congress that those who commit or support atrocities against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities, including Yazidis, Turkmen, Sabea-Mandeans, Kaka‘e, and Kurds, and who target them specifically for ethnic or religious reasons, are committing, and are hereby declared to be committing, ‘war crimes,’ ‘crimes against humanity,’ and ‘genocide.'”

The ANCA has teamed up with IDC to set up an Action Alert urging congressional support for H.Con.Res.75, which is available here.

Earlier this week, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) introduced S.Res.340, a resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS or Da’esh) is committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and calling upon the president to work with foreign governments and the United Nations to provide physical protection for ISIS’s targets, to support the creation of an international criminal tribunal with jurisdiction to punish these crimes, and to use every reasonable means, including sanctions, to destroy ISIS and disrupt its support networks.” The resolution, co-sponsored by Republican Presidential Candidate Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), notes that “communities of Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Armenian, Evangelical, and Melkite Christians; Kurds; Yazidis; Shia and Sunni Muslims; Turkmen; Sabea-Mandeans; Kaka‘e; and Shabaks have been an integral part of the cultural fabric of the Middle East for millennia.”

Congressman Rohrabacher has introduced H.R. 4017, a bill that would expedite the processing of immigrant and refugee visas for Christian and Yazidi victims of the ISIS genocide. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) had earlier introduced a similar resolution, H.Res.435.

A number of Senate and House resolutions have noted that ISIS has “threatened genocide” against Christians and other minorities, including S.2377, introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and H.R. 4208, introduced by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.).

H.Res.440, spearheaded by Rep. David Trott (R-Mich.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), calls for “urgent international action on behalf of Iraqi and Syrian civilians facing a dire humanitarian crisis and severe persecution because of their faith or ethnicity in the Nineveh Plain region of Iraq and Khabor, Kobane, and Aleppo regions of Syria.”  The resolution, which has more than 15 co-sponsors, specifically notes that Islamic extremist attacks “have had a particularly severe effect on ethnic and religious minority communities such as Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians, Armenians, Yazidis, Shabak, and other minorities in the region.”

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