Mideast Christians ask US Congress to designate ISIS ‘agent of genocide’

Friday 02/10/2015
Attendance at the In Defense of Christianity (IDC) conference.

Washington - Emotions ran high at a Washington event over an appeal to protect Chris­tians in the Middle East, as campaign organisers pushed for a US congressional reso­lution to designate the Islamic State (ISIS) “an agent of genocide” and called on the United States to take immediate steps to create a safe ha­ven in Iraq.
Organised by the newly formed group In Defense of Christianity (IDC), which includes Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christian churches from the East and the West, the three-day convention in early September attracted dozens of US congressmen, who spoke in support of the proposal.
The resolution calls on Congress to designate the actions of the Is­lamic State (ISIS) as genocide and crimes against humanity and sub­sequently pursue and prosecute those responsible.
The move comes on the heels of Pope Francis calling for churches to take in displaced people fleeing war in Syria and elsewhere
Among the attendees at the Washington conference were resi­dents from the Iraqi province of Nineveh who pushed for immedi­ate help for devastated communi­ties in Iraq.
“For the first time in history, the communities of Nineveh no longer live there. They’ve been pushed out. I speak of the Christians and Yazidis,” said Anwar Hadaya, a council member of Nineveh gov­ernorate. He flew from Iraq to at­tend the event and spoke in Arabic through an interpreter.
Hadaya joined his compatriots in blaming the United States and its allies for what he called a precipi­tous withdrawal from Iraq that left minorities unprotected under an increasingly corrupt and sectarian Iraqi government.
“Starting in 2003, the genocide began. Who is responsible for this? Definitely the Iraqi government for failing to support the people of Iraq, especially minorities,” he said. “Sure, the US wanted to end the occupation but the responsibility remains with the US and its allies… and frankly, if we only depend on the government of Iraq, we have no reason for optimism.”
Nahren Anweya, an Assyrian- American activist who supports the formation of an internationally protected safe haven in Nineveh, concurred. She said the popula­tion in Mosul, Nineveh’s capital, had dwindled from 4 million to 200,000 due to ISIS violence and occupation.
“Where’s the British government, which was also involved in Iraq? We need to encourage the US to come back to Iraq to be there for a long time. Both the Democrats and Re­publicans have guilt. This is a bipar­tisan cause,” she said.
Anweya echoed a sentiment common among attendees that the United States should return to Iraq and conduct military operations to expel ISIS from Nineveh and create a safe haven for the region’s indig­enous population to return.
“It’s possible to liberate Nineveh, and once that’s done the area can host more than a million people,” said Hadaya.
Christians in the Middle East have seen their numbers dwindle substantially in the past few dec­ades. According to IDC, in 1914 about 20% of people in the Middle East were Christians. By 2014, their numbers had fallen to 5%. Two-thirds of the 1.5 million Christians then living in Iraq fled following the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.
The civil war in Syria combined with the spread of ISIS has devas­tated communities of all sects, in­cluding Sunni Muslims, but minori­ties especially have borne the brunt of displacement and persecution.
At an event sponsored by the French Embassy in Washington, IDC screened a documentary by Los Angeles-based Syrian filmmaker Sargon Saadi featuring Yazidis and Christians driven out of Nineveh by ISIS, which killed hundreds of the men and abducted women and chil­dren. Many of the abducted were seen in slave auctions featured by ISIS in footage posted online and in the group’s propaganda magazine.
“Have we become the laughing stock of the world? They [ISIS] were making fun of the Yazidi girls they kidnapped. Are we a big joke now? No one cares about us,” a distraught woman tells the camera.
Some US lawmakers expressed surprise that it had taken this long for Christians of the Middle East to organise and present a unified front to US President Barack Obama’s ad­ministration.
“I’ve served in Congress for two decades and this is the first time I see a group specifically for Chris­tians,” said John Mica, a Republican from Florida.
But there was no shortage of ur­gency among the organisers, as some attendees cried and others lamented the friends and family members they have lost.
“I promise you, when they’re done with us there, they will come for the rest of the world,” said Anw­eya referring to ISIS.
The atmosphere of unity was marred when keynote speaker Sen­ator Ted Cruz, R-Texas and a can­didate for president, praised Israel as a defender of Christian commu­nities in the Middle East. Many in audience, which included Palestin­ian Christians, booed and heckled Cruz.