WASHINGTON, DC–A broad-based, inter-denominational, cross-cultural coalition pressed for concrete policy solutions to the existential threats facing the Middle East Christians at In Defense of Christians (IDC) National Leadership Conference and Solidarity Dinner, co-sponsored by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The two-day gathering, which brought together prominent faith leaders and human rights advocates from across the U.S., called for a permanent policy of official U.S. remembrance of the Armenian Genocide – as part of a series of legislative priorities shared during more than 100 Congressional meetings.
“IDC is America’s answer to a century of indifference. The organization we needed to give voice to our values; to demand and to deliver a place at the policy-making table for religious freedom. To do the work of the Lord in the language of Washington: legislation, appropriations and policy,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian during his formal remarks at the sixth annual Solidarity Dinner on September 10. He went on to voice support for the freedom of the Republic of Artsakh and demanded an end to U.S. complicity in Turkey’s genocide denial. “We cannot enforce foreign gag-rules regarding some genocides and then expect to be taken seriously when we say we are against all genocides,” said Hamparian. “Honest U.S. remembrance of this crime – along the lines of H.Res.296 and S.Res.150 – is, at its heart, not about Turkey or even Armenia. It’s ultimately about who we are as Americans.”
The Solidarity Dinner featured remarks by U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who stressed the Administration’s commitment to defending religious freedom, noting that the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held in July, was the largest ever hosted by the State Department. Hamparian had participated in the non-government organization component of the State Department’s religious freedom summit. The 2018 Solidarity Dinner keynote speaker, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, was on hand throughout the evening in support of the IDC’s efforts.
Among IDC’s 2019 Congressional Champions honored during the National Leadership Conference were Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Jackie Speier (D-CA), who, along with prior honoree Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), offered poignant remarks about the valuable efforts of the IDC.
“I am proud to be an Armenian. But I am pained to say that even though 1.5 million Armenians were killed during World War I by the Turks, the first genocide of the 20th century, that our Congress has not seen fit, even now, a hundred years plus later, to recognize that horrific effort,” said Rep. Speier, who went on to note that she wears a forget-me-not pendant – the symbol of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – as a constant reminder of “what our work is, as we protect Christians around the world.”
The invocation at the Solidarity Dinner was given by His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern U.S., who offered his prayers for the work of IDC, which “defends the rights of Christians, raises awareness of the positive impact and contributions of Christians in the Middle East, and works for peace and harmony in that region.”
On the second day of the conference, Hamparian shared Armenian American policy priorities during a panel discussion which included remarks by Tonia Khouri, IDC Vice President; Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel, President and CEO of American Task Force for Lebanon; Sara Salama, Legal Advisor for Coptic Orphans; Jeremy P. Barker, Senior Program Officer and Director of the Middle East Action Team for the Religious Freedom Institute; and Alexis Moukarzel, a member of the IDC Board of Advisers. Congressional remarks were offered by Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), who underscored his support for pending Armenian Genocide legislation (H.Res.296). ANCA Western Region Executive Director Armen Sahakyan and Hamparian were among the advocacy group leaders which then visited with over 100 Congressional offices in support of IDC priorities.
In Defense of Christians is a 501(c3) U.S. non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the protection and preservation of Christianity and Christian culture in the Middle East. They work to foster global awareness of the on-going plight of Middle Eastern Christians, encourage political advocacy in order to educate national and international policymakers so as to act toward this goal, and promote programs of humanitarian aid in solidarity with suffering Christian communities in the Middle East.