WASHINGTON—The United States will open a new channel of direct U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance, administered by faith-based groups and other nongovernment organizations, to help persecuted Christians and other at-risk Middle East populations, in what is a policy shift long sought by Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), In Defense of Christians (IDC), and a broad range of coalition partners and Congressional allies. The new policy was announced Wednesday evening by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence at the IDC 2017 National Advocacy Summit Fourth Annual Solidarity Dinner, co-sponsored by the ANCA.
“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” announced Vice-President Pence. “The United States will work hand-in-hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith…. We stand with those who suffer for their faith because that’s what Americans have always done, because the common bond of our humanity demands a strong response.”
Over the past five years, the ANCA has repeatedly shared concerns with the State Department and USAID that funds provided through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were not reaching vulnerable Christian and other at-risk minority communities in the Middle East who have been subject to genocide and wartime violence and unrest. IDC has prepared reports citing specific shortcomings of the existing aid-delivery infrastructure and the need for additional channels of assistance. Vice-President Pence’s announcement seeks to address those concerns.
“Direct U.S. assistance to the Middle East’s at-risk Christian and other vulnerable communities through faith-based and private organizations represents a common-sense solution to fill major aid-delivery gaps that have left vast refugee and IDP populations, including Armenians, without any meaningful international assistance,” stated Executive Director Aram Hamparian, who led the ANCA delegation at the event. “We look forward to working with USAID and Armenian Church and local community leaders to address this issue as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who received the IDC’s “Cedars of God” award during the IDC Solidarity Dinner, welcomed the policy decision, noting that over the years he has held “nine Congressional hearings in [his] Subcommittee trying to prod the Administration to see what was right before their eyes—people who were starving and who needed medicine food and shelter. It was only through the generosity of Christian charities in Europe and the United States…that these people were able to survive.”
In his remarks, Vice-President Pence specifically acknowledged key church leaders in attendance at the Solidarity Dinner, including His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, prelate of the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States. He noted that “Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew,” referencing the “plateaus of Armenia” among the many sites where the “fathers and mothers of our faith planted seeds of belief.” Vice-President Pence continued, noting, “They’ve blossomed and borne fruit ever since. But now that garden of faith, generations in the making, is under threat. It’s under threat of persecution and mistreatment.”
In his introduction of Vice-President Pence, Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson noted Near East Relief’s life-saving humanitarian efforts to aid Armenian victims over a century ago, which set the stage for assistance to future victims of genocide following the Holocaust and in Sudan. IDC Vice-President and Senior Policy Adviser Andrew Doran cited U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide as one of the organization’s five key policy initiatives advanced during the advocacy summit.
Others offering remarks and prayers at the IDC Solidarity Dinner were Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Darin Lahood (R-Ill.), Pam Pryor from the U.S. State Department, His Beatitude Patriarch Moran Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rai, His Beatitude Patriarch John X Yazigi, Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart, a video message from His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and IDC President Toufic Baaklini, with a musical performance by renowned Lebanese singer Abeer Nehme at the end of the program.
IDC’s 2017 Summit, “American Leadership and Securing the Future of Christians in the Middle East,” is cosponsored by the ANCA, The Philos Project, Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and the Lebanese Information Center.
An IDC Summit supporter since its inception in 2014 and cosponsor since 2016, the ANCA has lent its voice to a series of policy-driven panel discussions in the first two days of the conference, with the third day dedicated to Congressional meetings. The convention’s advocacy agenda features strong support for a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide and will include lobbying visits in support of H.Res.220, a bipartisan measure seeks to apply the lessons of the Armenian Genocide in preventing new atrocities across the Middle East, as well as efforts to advance security and stability in Lebanon; emergency relief for victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria; allies and accountability in the Middle East; and legal punishment for ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other perpetrators of genocide.
Among Armenian Church leaders joining Archbishop Choloyan at the IDC 2017 Summit are Rev. Berdj Jambazian, Minister of Union of the Armenian Evangelical Church of North America, and Mr. Zaven Khanjian, Executive Director and CEO of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA).