Reps. Fortenberry, Eshoo, Denham Call on White House to Direct Assistance to Persecuted Christians

By Haig Hengen (@haighengen)

AAANews Blog

June 22,
2015

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).

Once
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.  

Bryan
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
joint statement

The joint
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.

What’s in the House Appropriations Committee Report That Matters to Armenian Americans?

By Bryan Ardouny

AAANews Blog

June 15,
2015

Last week,
the US House Appropriations Committee adopted the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
(SFOPS) funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which covers US assistance to
Armenia and the region. As we
reported last week
, funding for South Caucasus countries was not specifically
delineated. However, there are several points in the Committee’s Report that
matter to Armenian Americans, particularly Armenians and other Christians
at-risk in Syria and the greater Middle East. While our focus is now turned to
the Senate, below are key excerpts from the House Committee Report:

House
Appropriations Committee Report Excerpts:

– The
Committee recommendation strongly supports
Jordan
by providing not less than $1,000,000,000
to meet ongoing economic and security needs and to address the extraordinary
strain Jordan faces from unrest in
the region, including by hosting more than 700,000
Syrian refugees
.

– The
Committee notes that foreign assistance helps to advance foreign policy and
national security objectives and that such support also reflects the values,
generosity, and goodwill of the American people. The Committee understands that
disease, hunger, poverty, and displacement of vulnerable people around the
world can threaten and destabilize countries and governments and thereby
undermine the national security of the United States. To address crises around
the world resulting from large-scale displacement and instability, the
Committee recommendation maintains the extraordinary level of funding provided
for disaster and refugee assistance in fiscal year 2015. The Committee notes
that, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced people now
exceeds 50 million people, the highest level in the post-World War II era. As
the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year and the security and humanitarian
situation grows more complex in the surrounding region, the Committee remains
concerned about the increasing burden and resulting instability in the
communities that host refugees and displaced persons. In addition to funds
provided under International Disaster Assistance, Migration and Refugee
Assistance, and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance, the Committee
recommendation provides $100,000,000
under title VIII for Economic Support Fund
to increase assistance to host
communities with large refugee populations. The Committee expects needs in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon to be prioritized.

– The
Committee recommendation includes $2,092,611,000
for Migration and Refugee Assistance
. When combined with additional funds
for Migration and Refugee Assistance provided under title VIII, the amount
recommended is the same as the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

– Minority communities.—Conflict and instability in the Middle East
and Africa intensify the challenges facing minority communities, including Christian populations. The
Committee urges the Secretary of State to ensure that eligible individuals and
families from such communities are not overlooked in the delivery of
humanitarian assistance and resettlement services.

– Syrian refugees.—The Committee remains concerned about the
plight of refugees from Syria and
the burden they face as well as the strain on host communities. The Committee
urges the Department of State to continue to do the following: (1) help host
countries expand their national systems to accommodate refugee needs; (2)
assist host country capacity to deliver basic services to their own citizens;
(3) strengthen the ability of local governments to respond to the refugee
influx; and (4) ensure that refugees have freedom of movement and meaningful
access to economic opportunity.

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $810,000,000 for International Disaster Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support humanitarian operations
in response to conflict-induced displacement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $20,000,000 for International Disaster Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support rapid response programs
to prevent and mitigate the destabilizing effects of conflict, including in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Middle
East and North Africa
.

– In addition
to funds provided under International Disaster Assistance, Migration and
Refugee Assistance, and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance, the
Committee recommendation provides
$100,000,000
under this heading to increase assistance to host communities
with large refugee populations with priority given to Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. These funds are intended to support an
integrated humanitarian and development approach to meet the requirements of
refugees and host communities and to help mitigate increased tensions between
such communities and refugees.

– Turkey.— The Committee supports strengthening Turkey’s commitment to democratic principles, due process, and the
rule of law through the continued engagement with civil society groups. The
Committee encourages the Secretary of State to further dialogue with Turkey to incorporate the importance of
media freedom, separation of powers, human rights, and the rule of law into
ongoing discussions

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $966,389,000 for Migration and Refugee Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support humanitarian operations
in response to conflict-induced displacement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

– Iraq.—The
Committee supports the request for Iraq to enhance the country’s security and
defeat ISIL. The Committee expects
the Secretary of State to ensure that assistance provided under this heading is
appropriately distributed to security forces with a national security mission
in Iraq, including the Kurdish Peshmerga.
The Committee recommendation includes language in section 7041© of this Act,
making assistance available for Iraq
to promote governance, security, and internal and regional stability, including
in Kurdistan and other areas impacted by conflict and among Iraq’s religious
and ethnic minority communities. The Committee also expects funds made
available in this title to enhance the security of Iraq’s religious and ethnic
minority populations, including
Christians
, that have been adversely affected by the conflict.

House
Appropriations Committee Bill Excerpts:

Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act shall not apply to—  

(1)
activities to support democracy or assistance under title V of the FREEDOM
Support Act 24 and section 1424 of Public Law 104–201 or non-proliferation
assistance; (2) any assistance provided by the Trade and Development Agency
under section 661 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2421);
 (3) any activity carried out by a member of the  United States and
Foreign Commercial Service while  acting within his or her official
capacity; (4) any insurance, reinsurance, guarantee, or other assistance
provided by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation under title IV of
chapter 2 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 11 U.S.C. 2191 et
seq.); (5) any financing provided under the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945; or
(6) humanitarian assistance.

Bryan Ardouny is the Executive Director of
the Armenian Assembly of America.