Experts Panel Speaks of Ongoing Persecution
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Armenian American leaders and activists from across the country gathered earlier this Fall in the nation’s capital for the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) 2018 National Advocacy Conference & Gala in a unified effort to strengthen congressional support for United States-Armenia relations and to raise concerns in the House and Senate. As part of its Advocacy Conference, the Assembly organized a full panel of experts sharing their insights of the realities of the persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
The conference attendees heard from National Council of Churches (NCC) President and General Secretary Jim Winkler, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church Director Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, and The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) Executive Director Kent Hill, and asked questions about what can be done on Capitol Hill to help this minority community. The panel was moderated by Armenian Church of America (Eastern Diocese) Diocesan Legate Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, former NCC President and member of President Barrack Obama’s Advisory Committee on Faith Based Initiatives.
“I think this is an excellent contribution to this assembly to know about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East – the forgotten minorities,” Archbishop Vicken said.
RFI Executive Director Hill started the discussion by describing his experience traveling to Armenia while representing the U.S. Government and USAID, and expressed his admiration at seeing some of the oldest churches in Christian history.
He then continued with daunting facts about the current Christian population in the Middle East, and shared with the audience findings and statistics that he prepared for congressional testimony this past June. “Of the three million Christians who are estimated to have been living in Iraq and Syria in 2003, 75-80% of them have been forced to abandon their homes because of sectarian violence, civil war, the rise of the brutal Islamic State. Of the 1.5 million Christians in Iraq in 2003, perhaps only 200,000 remain, and many of them are IDPs (internally displaced persons),” he said.
“Despite repeated Administration promises and Congressional pleas to respond quickly to be of assistance to the IDPs in the quest to return home, this simply did not happen, though I am pleased to report that in recent months there seems to be a commitment to do more in the future than has been done in the past,” Hill added. “It is not too late to make a difference. We are capable of moving much more quickly than we have been moving, but that will never happen if we are not persuaded that this is really a priority.”
Hill is part of an Advisory Committee to USAID mandated by Congress, comprised of faith-based organizations. He ensured the conference attendees that, according to Congress, more money will go to help the minorities.
Rev. Dr. Crowe explained that she has “traveled to several Middle Eastern regions throughout the years” and has “seen some of the disastrous results of economic, political, and nationalistic aims. And, very often, it does in fact affect religious minorities and indigenous peoples.”
After speaking about updates in the region, she pressed the participants to take the next step to help the Christian minorities. “Being with the people and hearing the stories of what their lives are like on the ground are very, very important. So, I urge you to continue to go and see, and then to go back to your homes and tell the stories of the Christians in the Middle East,” Rev. Dr. Crowe concluded.
The NCC President, who recently traveled to the region, encouraged everyone in the audience to engage in public policy advocacy and fight for the Christian population. “Life is harder and harder for Christians throughout the Middle East, and Christians in the United States must stand and act with solidarity on their behalf,” NCC President Winkler said.
“We believe that Christians in the United States must be made more aware of the dire situation of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East and that education about their situation must be our priority for action,” he continued. “We believe that Christians of the United States must engage in public policy advocacy – such as what you are doing – that supports the well-being of our church members of the Middle East. This includes constructive remedies for the extremist violence and responses to human rights violations throughout the region.”
The Armenian Assembly has regularly testified about the need to protect Christian and other minority communities at risk in the Middle East and has supported legislation such as House Resolution 390, the bipartisan Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017, spearheaded by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA).
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.