An Historic Designation of Genocide in the Middle East
April 4th, 2016
On March 14th the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass a resolution I introduced with my colleague, Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), which defines the persecution of Christians, including Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria as genocide. The resolution passed the House by a vote of 393 to 0. That same day I spoke on the floor of the House in support of the resolution and I invite you to read my speech.
Three days later on March 17th the U.S. Department of State took decisive and historic action by asserting that the persecution of Christians, Yezidis, and Shiite Muslims by ISIS is genocide.
In a powerful and poignant speech, Secretary of State John Kerry stated:
The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia… Its entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology. There is no question in my mind that if Daesh succeeded in establishing its so-called caliphate, it would seek to destroy what remains of ethnic and religious mosaic once thriving in the region.
This marks the sixth time in the history of our country that the genocide designation has been applied, and it is only the second time in our history that a U.S. administration has declared genocide during a conflict. The previous time was in 2004 when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell used it to describe the killings in Darfur.
This determination will elevate awareness of the incredible suffering of so many in Iraq and Syria and help unite the entire international community to end this genocide, a crime which strikes people, cultures, societies and civilization itself.
The designation of genocide through the passage of the genocide resolution and the State Department’s announcement is deeply meaningful to me as the only Member of Congress of Assyrian and Armenian descent. This genocide is a repeat of what my family and so many others endured. They were being persecuted and hunted down in the Middle East precisely because they were Christians.
This designation is only the first step. We must keep our resolve to prevent further violence against religious and ethnic minorities because the genocide of these vulnerable populations is still taking place. ISIS militants continue to ravage Iraq and Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities. Men and boys are being killed, and women and girls are being abducted, sold, and raped.
I’m working daily with my colleagues in the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus to secure humanitarian aid, security, and an expedited pathway to refugee status for besieged ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. I also continue to assist USAID partners in reaching the displaced population residing outside refugee camps with humanitarian assistance and address the pathetic 16-month wait period for priority refugee status within the U.S.
I’ve also introduced H.R. 1150, the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act which would allow non-state actors to be designated as violators of religious freedom, granting the Administration better tools to address extremism and violence with groups like Boko Haram and ISIS.
The ongoing violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East calls for the U.S. to recommit itself to one of its greatest values—religious freedom. I will continue to do everything I can to achieve peace in the region so that these ancient faith communities will be safe in their ancestral homeland.
All my best,
Anna G. Eshoo
Member of Congress