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.

Congress, Armenian Assembly Condemn Azerbaijan Downing of Armenian Helicopter in Karabakh

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By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

November 20, 2014

On November 12th, an Azerbaijani military unit stationed near the official Line of Contact (LOC) shot down an unarmed Nagorno Karabakh (NK) army helicopter killing all three servicemen aboard. News of the incident was first reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation and soon went viral across the Internet.

“The [Armenian] Assembly strongly condemns Azerbaijan’s blatant cease-fire violation and calls upon the Administration and Congress to take strong action to ensure the safety and security of Artsakh’s citizens,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny moments after reports reached Washington.

CONGRESS CONDEMNS AZERBAIJANI ATTACK

The blatant attack on Nagorno Karabakh brought swift rebuke from all over the world including from Members of the U.S. Congress.

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) was quick to strongly condemn the attack. “The downing of an Armenian helicopter today is an indefensible aggressive action that threatens to undermine the fragile ceasefire and plunge the region back into violence,” he said. “Azerbaijan must immediately cease all such attacks and provocations and commit to concrete progress in the Minsk Group talks,” Chairman Royce said.

Since a cease-fire was signed in 1994, the Republic of Armenia has sought a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France. Both sides are technically, and legally, still at war with cross-border sniper fire occurring daily. However, 2014 has claimed more lives than the last twenty years. This past August, Azerbaijan sent several armed battalions across the LOC and attempted to penetrate different NK defense positions, the largest military offensive in the region in decades. Like the August assault, Azerbaijan’s downing of the NK helicopter was the first such incident since the 1991-1994 NK War. It appears that Azerbaijan’s aggressive tactics, which significantly impact negotiations, have reached a new level of urgency that requires a strong and unequivocal response.

Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) likewise condemned the incident. “I am outraged and saddened by the Azerbaijani attack on the Nagorno Karabakh helicopter engaged in a training flight,” he said. “This is another instance of aggression by the Azerbaijani government towards Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia and represents an escalation in their violent actions that continue to have a destabilizing impact on the region.”

Congressman Pallone, who has travelled to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh on several occasions and knows the region and its people very well, called on the White House to step forward. “There is no longer any question that President Obama must take action to discourage Azerbaijan from pursuing such violent aggression and to demonstrate our commitment to peace and stability,” he said. “I encourage President Obama to formally condemn this deadly attack.”

Furthermore, Rep. Pallone called for the “cessation of any military assistance to Azerbaijan and the strengthening of section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, which restricts aid to Azerbaijan based on its aggression toward Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. It is time for both the President and Congress to ensure that U.S. law once again holds Azerbaijan accountable for its violent actions,” he stated. “The families of those who were killed and all of Nagorno Karabakh’s citizens remain in my thoughts and prayers,” Pallone stated.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), a rising voice in the Armenian Caucus, also expressed her dismay at Azerbaijani behavior. “I am deeply troubled by the latest evidence of Azerbaijan’s continued aggression with their attack on an apparently unarmed helicopter,” she said. “The people in Nagorno-Karabakh deserve and desire peace, but Azerbaijan’s disregard for the 1994 cease fire threatens both sides with conflict.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a steadfast defender of NK, rightfully recognized the need for Azerbaijan to be held “accountable for engaging in violence and not in peaceful negotiations,” via his Twitter account. Given the events of this year, and the recent death of three Karabakh pilots, if the international community, particularly the OSCE, United States, and United Kingdom, do not directly address Azerbaijani intransigence at the negotiating table and condemn this military act, then the likelihood of renewed war in the South Caucasus will near certainty.

STATE DEPARTMENT RESPONSE FALLS SHORT

The incident also caught the attention of the international press corps, as questions regarding the attack were raised during the State Department Daily Press Briefing on November 13. Unfortunately, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki’s response fell short of condemning the attack. “I don’t have any analysis of the exact events on the ground,” Psaki said to a reporter’s question. “We’ve seen the same reports. There are obviously comments and claims from both sides, but I don’t have any analysis beyond that.”

The reporter continued to seek clarification, stating, “Azerbaijan shooting an Armenian vessel, then it’s pretty clear which party is violating the ceasefire.”

Psaki responded, stating “We understand there are views by both sides, but I don’t have any comment from the U.S. Government on it.”

When a helicopter is shot down and three people are killed it is difficult to accept that knowledgeable people choose to interpret these facts as simply “views” shared by “both sides.” The spokeswoman’s frustration at her inability to speak openly about a blatant attack against an American ally clearly surfaced when presented with what is referred to in political parlance as a “smoking gun.”

Click on the image below to watch the video of the attack on RFE/RL.

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