WASHINGTON— Hundreds of Christian leaders, international religious-freedom advocates, and human rights defenders held over 400 Congressional meetings calling on legislators to reject Turkey’s Armenian Genocide gag rule and draw on the lessons of that crime in preventing renewed atrocities against Christians and other at-risk religious minorities across the Middle East.
The advocates were gathered for In Defense of Christians (IDC) 2017 Summit, “American Leadership and Securing the Future of Christians in the Middle East,” cosponsored by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), The Philos Project, and The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).
A video overview of the IDC 2017 Summit is available below:
The meetings, which included Christian clergy from many denominations and supporters of diverse nationalities and creeds, focused on the summit’s five-pronged advocacy agenda, including 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.
Images from the meetings are available on the ANCA Facebook page.
Prior to the Congressional visitations, a dozen members of Congress joined with advocates to share their personal commitment to support the safety and security of the Middle East’s historic Christian communities, and cited the importance of grassroots mobilization to advance those concerns. Among U.S. Representatives offering remarks were Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Ron Estes (R-Kans.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), Andy Harris (R-Md.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), and Randy Weber (R-Tex.).
An IDC Summit supporter since its inception in 2014 and cosponsor since 2016, the ANCA lent its voice to a series of policy-driven panel discussions in the first two days of the conference. In a panel titled “Who Are America’s Allies and Enemies in the Middle East,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian offered a hard look at Turkey, calling for accountability for its ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide, the escalating aggression at home and abroad, reaching the U.S. in May with the brutal beating of peaceful protesters in Washington D.C. by President Erdogan’s security detail and supporters.
Hamparian’s remarks are available below:
A highlight of the IDC 2017 Summit was the announcement that the U.S. 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. The policy shift, long sought by the ANCA, IDC, and a broad range of coalition partners and Congressional allies was announced Wednesday evening by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence at the IDC 2017 National Advocacy Summit Fourth Annual Solidarity Dinner.
“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,” Pence announced. “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.”
His Beatitude Moran Mor Bechara Boutros al-Rai, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and His Beatitude John Yazigi, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East had traveled from the Middle East to offer first-hand accounts of the plight of Christians in the region. Armenian faith leaders at the conference included His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Eastern USA, Rev. Berdj Djambazian, 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.