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.

Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide Raised During Congressional Hearing on the Future of Turkish Democracy

image

By Peter Kechichian

AAANews Blog

July 18, 2014

This week, Turkey’s 99-year campaign of Armenian Genocide denial and other significant Armenian American issues were raised at a special subcommittee hearing by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The hearing, held on Tuesday, July 15th, at the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, was entitled “The Future of Turkish Democracy,” under the direction of  Subcommittee Chairman Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) was also present to deliver introductory remarks.  

image

Chairman Royce repeatedly criticized the increased consolidation of power by the Erdogan government as well as further restrictions on human rights in Turkey. Royce stated that “I am very concerned by recent events that indicate a shift by Prime Minister Erdogan away from democratic ideals and reverting to more authoritarian rule,” further adding that Erdogan has “consistently chosen to use strong-arm tactics against opponents.”

The committee heard testimony from several experts on Turkey. These included Mr. Nate Schenkkan, Program Officer at Freedom House; Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at Tufts University; Dr. Soner Cagaptay, Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Dr. Kilic Kanat, Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research; and Hakan Tasci, Executive Director, Tuskon-US.

Chairman Royce began the hearing by reiterating his support for HR 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, which requires the U.S. State Department to issue an annual report on the fate of Christian properties in Turkey and the status of their return to their rightful owners. HR 4347 was overwhelmingly adopted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs late last month.

Turkey’s state-sponsored campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide was also referenced several times during the hearing. Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ) stated that Turkey appeared to be “very sensitive” about discussion of the Armenian Genocide in the U.S. He also referred to some Turkish officials as “thugs” and referenced Turkish pressure on Members of Congress. “When you vote here, you feel like you’re voting with a Turkish sword over your head,” Sires said.

image

Turkey Caucus Co-Chair Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who last month vigorously opposed the passage of HR 4347, also indirectly referenced the Armenian Genocide. He stated “Turkey has to come to acknowledgment with some of its past… But so do others. And we need to deal with the Turkey of here and now. Not of the Turkey of a hundred years ago or two hundred years ago or 500 years ago for that matter,” Connolly said. “Some of us are still hung up on Constantinople,” he said, as he attempted to humorously portray the death of 1.5 million men, women, and children.

Only two of the five witnesses at the subcommittee hearing made reference to issues of concern to the Armenian American community. Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou spoke in depth about Christian minorities in Turkey, the persecution they continue to face, and the destruction of Anatolia’s Christian heritage. She not only mentioned the Armenian Genocide in her prepared remarks but also strongly criticized the treatment of Christian Armenians in Turkey, as well as the status of Armenian and Greek holy sites in Turkey and Cyprus.

Dr. Prodromou referred to the status of religious minority rights in Turkey as revealing a “sobering picture of no substantive change,” further adding that “if one uses religious freedom for Turkey’s minority communities as a metric for the overall robustness and quality of democracy in Turkey, there is cause for grave concern.” She also implored the U.S. to hold Turkey to “international standards and to the expectations of a U.S. partner and NATO ally.”

In his prepared statement, Dr. Soner Cagaptay made reference to the re-opening of the Armenian Akhtamar Church in Eastern Turkey as an example of “improvements in terms of religious freedoms.” However, he failed to mention that the very same church officially functions as a museum and only allows a liturgical service once a year.

The subcommittee hearing dealt with various issues relating to the status of democracy in Turkey. Some other areas covered include restrictions on religion, internet censorship, and the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey.