By Haig Hengen (@haighengen)
Last week, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and
Jeff Denham (R-CA) issued a joint statement after meeting with the White House
National Security team to urge assistance to persecuted Christians and other
religious minorities in the Middle East. The lawmakers suggested a three-pillar
approach, which follows the Armenian Assembly of America’s House Appropriations
testimony earlier this year, such as humanitarian aid, special refugee status
in the U.S. for persecuted individuals and families who wish to emigrate, and
direct military assistance for Christian self-defense forces in the fight
against the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS).
again fighting for survival, one of the largest minority populations impacted
by ISIS are the Armenian Christians living in Syria and Iraq, an area where
Christians are targeted and killed. Armenians as a people have continually faced
death and persecution because of their religion. Although the Armenian Genocide
occurred 100 years ago, persecution and murder of Christians in the Middle East
is prevalent once again. Syrian Armenians, mostly descendants of Armenians who
escaped the Ottoman Turkish state now must escape the Islamic State. This
terrorist organization has made it its duty to seek out Christians in Syria and
force them to either convert to their form of Islam or die. “Christianity in
the Middle East is shattered. ISIL’s genocidal campaign of religious cleansing
has placed horrific pressure on the region’s ancient Christian communities and
other faith minorities,” reads the joint
statement. Many of these Armenians rely on the assistance of the United
States and other Western countries in order to survive.
The safety of persecuted Armenians in Syria is essential
because of their impact on society.
Minority Christian groups like the Armenians maintain a significant role
throughout the Middle East. “The stability and cultural identity of the Middle
East depends in part on its vibrant mosaic of religious minorities. Christians
in the region are longstanding pillars of civil society and essential allies in
the efforts to promote pluralism and combat extremism. As ISIL works to
exterminate the innocent and vulnerable members of this faith tradition, all
people of good will should express concern for their protection—a cause that is
essential to civilization itself,” reads the joint statement.
As part of
the three pillar approach suggested by lawmakers “The United States can come to
the aid in Syria by providing humanitarian assistance, special refugee status
for victims, and empowering them to defend themselves,” they said. The United States Agency for International Development
(USAID) has requested $819 million be used for The Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) program. These programs aim to provide for the basic needs to sustain
life, including emergency shelter and medical care for populations in distress
especially Armenian and minority Christians in Syria.
Ardouny, the executive director of the Armenian Assembly, delivered the same
message in his testimony.
Ardouny “urged the FY 16 Subcommittee to direct the State Department and
USAID to allocate additional funds to Armenia as it seeks to absorb refugees
from Syria as well as implement measures to ensure that gaps in distribution of
relief aid are addressed so that all those in need of urgent humanitarian
assistance are reached.”
In addition to humanitarian aid, Reps. Fortenberry, Eshoo and
Denham believe that the USAID and State Department must make it a prerogative
to ensure minority Christians, “who wish to
leave should have access to a priority refugee status process with the State
Department. The current multi-year wait period is simply too long for religious
minorities under constant threat of death, torture and starvation,” according to the
statement builds on legislation that was initiated by Fortenberry, Eshoo and Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) last congress.
The members “led passage of a bipartisan resolution (H. Res. 683) last year
condemning the severe persecution that Christians and other ethnic and
religious minority communities are suffering in Iraq. The resolution also
called for an international humanitarian intervention to aid these innocent
civilian groups,” reads the joint statement. The US possesses the power to
ensure the safety of those who face genocide.
It is our country’s duty to ensure that the Armenian people and other
Christians do not face another extermination as they did 100 years ago. The US
has the ability to protect these people, but do we have the will to do so? It is imperative that the US direct aid and
enact legislation that protects the Armenian people and other minority
Christians before it’s too late.
Haig Hengen is a government
affairs intern at the Armenian Assembly of America. He is currently studying
international economics with a minor in Arabic at the Elliott School of
International Affairs at George Washington University.