WASHINGTON, D.C. – On September 16, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) will host the 2019 National Advocacy Conference and Gala, where experts will discuss issues important to the Armenian American community. The panel on Religious Freedom in the Middle East and Turkey will shed light on the risks and challenges of religious minorities, with emphasis given to the plight of the Christians in Turkey and throughout the wider Middle East.
The panel features the Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz; President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC), Jim Winkler; and Appointed Representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the United States and former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, Patrick Theros. The panel will be moderated by Armenian Church of America (Eastern Diocese) Diocesan Legate Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, former NCC President and member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Committee on Faith-Based Initiatives.
“During the Armenian Assembly’s Advocacy Conference last year, a panel on Christians at risk in the Middle East, focused primarily on Syria and Iraq. The conference participants benefited from learning first-hand experiences on this topic, and I believe this year will be even more beneficial given the current issues Christians face in Turkey and the greater Middle East,” said Archbishop Vicken Aykazian.
Kristina Arriaga is a passionate communicator with a storied life —from orchestrating the rescue of a Cuban woman and her two children, for which she was featured in Vanity Fair and Reader’s Digest, to visiting American Pastor Andrew Brunson in a prison in Turkey, attending his judicial hearings in Izmir, and advocating for his release both in Turkey and through the pages of the Wall Street Journal. She is particularly interested in international human rights for girls and women and has written extensively on these issues.
In 2016, the U.S. Congress appointed her to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom where she currently is serving her second and final term. During her tenure, she has met with high ranking government officials to advocate for human rights in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Nigeria, Turkey, and many other countries.
Before serving on the Commission, Arriaga was a member of the U.S. delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission as well as the executive director of a public interest law firm that defends free expression.
Jim Winkler has been a lifelong social justice advocate and has held a deep passion for ecumenical and interreligious work. In 2013, he was elected President and General Secretary of the NCC, an ecumenical partnership of 38 Christian faith groups in the United States. Its member denominations, churches, conventions, and archdioceses include Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American, and Living Peace traditions. Together, they encompass more than 100,000 local congregations and 40 million Christians. Winkler is the public voice of the NCC and represents the Council as it addresses two major priorities: mass incarceration and interreligious relationships with a focus on peace.
American diplomat and public servant of Hellenic heritage, Ambassador Patrick Theros, served as the U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar from 1995-1998. Prior to his appointment, he served as Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State, responsible for the coordination of all U.S. Government anti-terrorism activities outside of the United States. In 1999, the late Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Diodoros I, inducted Ambassador Theros into the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian is the Diocesan Legate in Washington, D.C., and serves Ecumenical Director of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. He has participated in the World Council of Churches (WCC) since 1981, and as a member of its Central Committee representing the Catholicos of All Armenians from 1985-1991. Archbishop Aykazian has served as a member of the WCC’s Executive Committee since 2007. In 2005, Archbishop Aykazian was elected president of the National Council of Churches in the United States. In 2007, he participated in the General Assembly of the WCC in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and was elected as a member of the WCC Executive and Central Committees.
In 2009, he was appointed to President Obama’s Advisory Committee on Faith-Based Initiatives, the first Armenian clergyman ever appointed to the position. He is a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. In 2013, he was elected President of Christian Churches Together, an organization representing Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Orthodox, and other historic peace churches. He is the first Armenian elected as a board member to Habitat for Humanity International. In 2013, he was elected President of Habitat for Humanity Europe, Africa, and Central Asia. He has worked tirelessly to defend the rights of Christian minorities in the Middle East and Asia. Over the past 15 years, he has traveled to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine and met with high level religious and political leaders representing all faiths.
In addition to this panel, the National Advocacy Conference and Gala includes other panel discussions, meetings with elected officials on Capitol Hill, and a congressional reception on the Hill celebrating U.S.-Armenia relations.
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.