Pres. Trump must act fast to save Iraq’s Christian genocide victims; Obama policies have been epic fail
By Nina Shea, Director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. This piece is adapted from remarks given at the Anglosphere conference at the NY Catholic Archdiocese’ Sheen Center, on December 5.
Iraq’s Christian genocide survivors are hanging on with hope and the help of a fraying thread of private aid. The US government acknowledged the ISIS genocide suffered by these Christians, Yizidis and other minorities, last March. Since then, the Obama administration’s humanitarian response toward them has been epic fail.
As Iraq’s post-ISIS reconstruction phase now comes into focus, the Christians stand to lose out again. Unless President Trump acts fast to reverse the current practices and policies, Iraq’s ancient Christian communities, with direct ties to the earliest Church and who speak Aramaic, the same tongue as Jesus of Nazareth, will disappear completely.
Most of these Christians have been effectively shut out of the $1.1 billion American humanitarian aid program for Iraq since ISIS seized their hometowns in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province, in 2014. The Chaldean Catholic Church leaders who assumed responsibility for them after they fled to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, testified to Congress in September that American aid has systematically and completely by-passed them: Stephen Rasche, a lawyer for the Erbil Chaldean Archdiocese, attested that apart from some “tents and tarps” in August 2014, “the Christian community in Iraq has received nothing in aid from any US aid agencies or the UN.”
Iraq’s churches have scoured the West for private donations to feed and shelter some one hundred thousand indigent refugees from ISIS. In its third year, this private effort is foundering from donor fatigue.
Nor have the persecuted Christians been able to find shelter in the refugee camps of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, an agency heavily supported by the US, anywhere in the region. Monsignor John Kozar of the pontifical Catholic Near East Welfare Association, run by the NY Archdiocese, told a New York conference on Dec. 5 that Christians don’t dare enter UNHCR camps for they would be targeted by Islamic gangs within them. John Pontifex, a director of the papal agency Aid to the Church in Need, emailed me that he visited a UNHCR registered camp in Lebanon, from where, he discovered, all the Christian refugees had fled in fear, opting instead for the cramped but safer quarters of a nearby Christian home.
Now, as the UN Development Program plans for the distribution of US and other funding to rebuild Iraqi towns devastated by ISIS, that agency, expected to receive billions of dollars in US aid, has released a plan that fails to list a single funding distribution center in the Christian areas of Nineveh among the some 20 facilities approved for the distribution of reconstruction aid in Iraq. ISIS has left Nineveh in ruins, notwithstanding recent headlines of church bells ringing there again. Careful reporting by CBN’s Chris Mitchell reveals widespread destruction of civilian homes and businesses in the largest of the Christian towns, Qaraqosh. Iraqi Catholic nun Diana Momeka wrote to me last month that troop reports from three predominantly-Christian towns estimate damage affecting up to 80 per cent of the buildings and historical site.
Sinjar, the Yizidi’s center, stands as a warning for other Nineveh towns. It was recaptured from ISIS last year but its residents have yet to return from camps in Kurdistan because it lies in rubble. Sinjar’s Yizidis now have reason for hope, since one of the UNDP facilities for funding reconstruction is to be located there. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Christians.
American reconstruction funds largely failed to reach Iraqi Christians during the Bush years, as a July 2012 US Government Accountability Office report verified. Continued US indifference all but ensures this will occur again.
To say in this context of religious genocide and sectarianism, as the Obama administration sometimes does in trying to explain why Iraqi Christians are being excluded from US assistance programs — that there should be no religious test for US assistance — is unconscionable. In fact, the administration has not been able to offer any coherent explanation as to why the Christians are being systematically left out of these key US funded aid programs in Iraq.
Each month, more Christians leave Iraq to resettle in the West. In four years, they could all be gone, warns the Knights of Columbus, a prominent private donor to the displaced Nineveh Christians.
As president, Donald Trump should immediately issue instructions to every relevant US department to end the marginalization of the genocide minorities in all U.S. aid programs; and a demarche along the same lines to the United Nations and the Iraqi government – both of which receive generous American support.
Otherwise, these communities are soon likely to become extinct, and the term “genocide,” itself, morally meaningless.
Nina Shea has worked as a lawyer specifically focusing on religious freedom in American foreign policy, for thirty years. Joining the Hudson Institute as a Senior Fellow in 2006, she has led the Center for Religious Freedom, which she founded in 1986, in its effort to defend religious freedom internationally. Ms. Shea served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency, for thirteen years until 2012, and has been appointed to represent the United States on U.N. human rights bodies by both Republican and Democratic administrations. She has co-authored two books on religious persecution (“Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians” (Thomas Nelson 2013) and “Silenced,” Oxford University Press, 2011), and authored four studies on violent teachings in official Saudi education materials, making her an authority on the subject. She currently is a leader of a campaign for Christians threatened with genocide by ISIS.
For Christians In The Middle East, Israel is Their Last Refuge
By Bradley Martin
December 8, 2016, 12:05 am
A Toronto conference last week asked: Why is the world silent about Christian genocide?
“If Christianity [in the Middle East] survives, it will not be because of any interest taken by Christians in our part of the world, but rather because the State of Israel, the people of Israel, and conscientious Jews everywhere are dedicated to saving it,” said Dr. Paul Merkley, Professor of History at Carleton University, last week in a panel discussion at Toronto’s Beth Radom synagogue.
The academic conference, titled “Christian Genocide in the Middle East: Why is the World Silent?” was co-sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.
“In 1910, it’s estimated that Christians were 14% of the Middle Eastern population” said Dr. Frederick Krantz, Director of CIJR. “Today, they are under 4% and rapidly declining.”
Christian worshipers take part in the Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City during Easter, 2011 (photo credit Kobi Gideon – Flash90)
Other figures were highlighted throughout the conference, such as how in Iraq alone, there were 1.5 million Christians until 2003. Today, that number is estimated at 275,000 with the strong likelihood that there won’t be any more of a community left within five years.
Much of the present-day persecution was tied to the Islamic State. National Executive Director of ICEJ Canada, Donna Holbrook, showed graphic images of the genocide of Christians currently taking place in Iraq.
“This mother was killed, but not before the terrorists made her watch them kill her baby,” said Holbrook, showing a horrific image of an Iraqi Christian woman murdered by ISIS terrorists.
Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari, Chief Executive Officer of the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement, who recently returned from Iraq, weighed in on the atrocities being committed by ISIS against Assyrian Christians. Sangari showed footage from a summer school program, whose children lost a year of schooling due to the ISIS invasion.
“ISIS. They are all beasts! They didn’t leave us anything in this country!” said a young Assyrian boy at the school, overwhelmed with tears as he recounted being expelled from his home. His mother was dying of cancer as a result of ISIS bombing his neighborhood.
While in Iraq, Sangari worked to promote unity of effort and commonality of purpose between the churches, political parties and Christian militias in Iraq, in a first-of-its kind document signed by representatives of these groups and blessed by church leaders. The agreement affirmed the signatories to work as partners to retake their historical homeland in the Nineveh Plain.
Apart from criticizing the silence of Western governments and churches in the face of this genocide, Israel was highlighted as the last hope for Christians in the region.
“There is a powerful irony in the fact that the last hope for Christians in the Middle East is in Israel,” said Carleton history professor Merkley. “Israel is the only polity within the entire Middle East where Christian numbers are increasing.” Merkley went on to praise the Jewish State for providing protection and aid to Ethiopian and Somalian Christians taking refuge in Israel, noting that Christians are to be found in every aspect of Israeli society such as the private sector, the government, the military, and even the Supreme Court.
Iraqi Christian Church set on fire and looted by the Islamic state. Church of Mart Shmoni, in Bartella, Iraq, October, 2016. (Marko Drobnjakovic/Associated Press)
Merkley also condemned UNESCO for their recent resolution denying Jewish and Christian ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, describing it as “utterly insane.” The panel affirmed that the Judeo-Christian values that tied Israel and Christians in the region together were under attack.
“It’s not the denial of genocide that is being perpetrated,” said Sangari, “but the denial of the existence of evil.… The good is represented by the Chosen People, the Jewish people, and the principles and ideals which are an integral part of their inheritance.” Sangari would later say that it was precisely the strong commitment to these Judeo-Christian values that led to the ongoing genocide of Assyrian Christians by ISIS.
Sangari cited biblical texts to illustrate that the Assyrian Christians and the Jewish people were “bound together by a common inheritance of good.” Examples included Genesis 11:31, which states that Abraham came from Ur of Kaśdim, which is ancient Assyria. The Book of Jonah details how God sent the Prophet Jonah to the Ninevites to prophesy against their wickedness. Assyrian Christians to this day commemorate that event with an annual three-day fast to praise God for their deliverance from evil.
Mosul, Iraq — Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche (2-L) of Mosul leads a Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, after the church was re-captured from the Islamic State, on October 30, 2016. AFP photo by Safin Hamed
Sangari also cited Isaiah 19:23-25, which details how there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria with God blessing the three nations: “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”
Sangari advocates closer ties between Israel, Assyrian Christians, and Egyptian Copts. Apart from being a refuge for Christians within its borders, Israel was looked upon as a model for how to resolve the continuing decline of Christians throughout the Middle East.
An audience member asked the panel how practical such a solution could be for Assyrian and other Christians in the Nineveh Plain, considering the demographic disadvantage Christians face in the region when compared to the overwhelming Muslim majority in Iraq and throughout the region. Sangari dismissed this concern, saying that while he was in Iraq, he was privy to a force consisting of a 20,000-man Yazidi-Christian-Assyrian capability that stretches from the Nineveh Plain to the Sinjar Mountains.
On that note, the panel closed with Merkley quoting Luma Simms, Associate Fellow at the Philos Project.
“Let it always be said: In the dark age of ISIS, when desolation and despair covered the Arab world, Israel was the house of light. Like the prophet, Jonah whom God commanded to go to Nineveh and offer redemption to the Assyrians, may Israel go and redeem Assyria — redeem the Nineveh plains once again.”
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Tags: Assyrian Christians, Baghdad, Canada, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, Carleton University, Christian genocide, Christians, Christians on the brink of extinction, Copts, Daesh, Egypt, Egyptian Copts, Europe, genocide, Global Assault on Christians, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, Iraq, Iraqi Christians, ISIL, ISIS, Islamic state, Israel, Israel is Their Last Refuge, Jerusalem, Judeo-Christian values, Kurdistan, Kurds, Middle East, Near East Center for Strategic Engagement, Nineveh, Sinjar, Syria, U. S., United Nations, Yizidis