American Armenians, Assyrians Bemoan Persecution of Minorities in Iraq

The Armenian National Committee of America and the Assyrian Universal Alliance have written a joint letter to Congressman Edward Royce expressing their concern about the persecution of ethno-religious minorities in Iraq at the hands of ISIS


WASHINGTON—The Assyrian Universal Alliance and the Armenian National Committee of America have sent a joint letter to Congressman Edward Royce, representative for California’s 39th congressional district, on the persecution of Assyrians in Iraq.

Royce is the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The letter expresses concern over the persecution of Assyrians and other minorities in Iraq by ISIS and calls attention to the flight of 200,000 Assyrians from their towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain in North Iraq, which was caused by ISIS moving into the area and capturing towns and villages.

The letter calls for the establishment of a safe haven in the Nineveh Plain, under UN protection, the creation of local Assyrian forces for protection and immediate assistance with humanitarian aid.

The letter was signed by Carlo Ganjeh, Americas Secretary for the Assyrian Universal Alliance, and Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

Here is the full text of the letter:

“Dear Congressman Royce:

I write to express my grave concern over the systematic persecution of Iraq’s ancient Assyrian Christians and other ethno-religious minorities in Iraq in light of the upcoming Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry on the Obama Administration’s response to the ISIS threat and urge the Representative to address these important issues and questions outlined below at the hearing.

Assyrians, referred to also as Chaldeans and Syriacs, are an indigenous community that has been living in Iraq for thousands of years, predating Islam and the Arab civilizations of Mesopotamia. They are being decimated, along with other Christian and minority communities in Iraq and Syria. Urgent action is needed to save these communities.

Following IS’s capture of Mosul in early June 2014, an edict was issued to all non-Muslims in the city to either convert to Islam, pay a tax, flee or be killed. As nearly all of the city’s 35,000 Assyrian residents escaped Mosul, members of IS marked their homes with the Arabic letter “noon” to symbolize the word “Nasrani,” or “Christian.” Each of the 30 churches and monasteries inside the city are believed to be in the hands of IS militants, who have reportedly removed the buildings’ crosses and burned, looted, or destroyed much of the property. In late June, the Chaldean Catholic Church’s Archbishop of Erbil stated that for the first time in 1,600 years, mass was not celebrated in Mosul.

Many initially sought refuge in the Nineveh Plain region, one of the only areas within the country historically dominated by native non-Muslim and non-Arab populations and which houses the greatest concentration of Assyrian Christians in Iraq. In early August, nearly all of the roughly 200,000 residents in the Nineveh Plain, including many who have endured repeated displacement, fled the region as IS militants advanced. Now this culturally unique and historically significant territory is nearly empty of its indigenous inhabitants. The resulting humanitarian crisis has garnered the highest level emergency designation by UN officials as tens of thousands of perpetually uprooted minorities struggle to access food, water and shelter from the scorching summer heat.

In July, the UN Security Council released a statement expressing deep concern over reports of atrocities and condemning “in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of individuals from minority populations.” Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also condemned the actions claiming that such systematic targeting may amount to a “crime against humanity.” Most notably, members of the UN’s anti-discrimination body recently issued a rare decision urging for the deployment of UN Peacekeeping forces to the Nineveh Plain to establish a safe zone for the return and protection of displaced persons traditionally living in that area. Their decision expressed alarm over mass killings and the forced displacement of populations, which “increase the risk of genocide.” The UN’s statements confirm the gravity of these crimes and implicate an obligation to protect the community from the dire consequences sure to result if action is not immediately taken.

The persecution of Assyrian Christians at the hands of the Islamic State is compounded by a longstanding legacy of discrimination targeting non-Arab communities within Iraq. While such a legacy emerged under the regime of Saddam Hussein, much of the same policies against Assyrians persists – and is even reinforced at times – by various levels of Iraq’s new democratic government. For instance, despite provisions within Iraq’s Constitution requiring that security services maintain a balanced representation of the country’s various components, Assyrian Christians constitute an inequitable proportion of local security forces in the Nineveh Plain as well as high-ranking law enforcement positions. As a consequence of such discrimination, Assyrians were left largely defenseless after Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga retreated following the capture of ancient Christian villages by members of the Islamic State in early August.

While the US Government and many in the international community have condemned such atrocities, little has been done to help cure the injustices. Members of Congress have recently appealed to President Obama to address the particular needs of such vulnerable minorities. They have adopted a bipartisan resolution calling on the State Department and other stakeholders to “secure safe havens for those claiming amnesty in Iraq,” issued letters highlighting the failure of Iraq’s security forces to adequately protect minority groups, and passed legislation establishing a special diplomatic envoy dedicated to promoting religious freedom in the region. Yet it continues to appear that the administration remains slow in prioritizing the targeted persecution of Assyrian Christians and other ethno-religious minorities as part of its core policies on Iraq and the Islamic State.

Now is a critical moment for the future of this ancient community. Congressman Royce, I kindly request that you consider raising these concerns, especially the establishment of a safe zone under international protection as recommended by UN human rights experts, with Secretary Kerry during the upcoming Committee hearing. For your reference, I have developed a list of specific questions directed at Secretary Kerry that draw upon key issues raised in this appeal.”

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