AUA – Letter to Members of the USA House Foreign Affairs Committee
Assyrian Universal Alliance – American Chapter
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
The Honorable Edward Royce
US House of Representatives
2185 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Re: Addressing the Concerns of Iraq’s Indigenous Assyrian Christians and Other Ethno-religious Minorities Before the Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on ISIS and the Obama Administration’s Response.
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 communitiesin 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.[i] 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.”[ii] 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.[iii] 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.[iv]
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.[v] 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.[vi] 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.[vii]
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.”[viii] Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also condemned the actions claiming that such systematic targeting may amount to a “crime against humanity.”[ix] 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.[x] Their decision expressed alarm over mass killings and the forced displacement of populations, which “increase the risk of genocide.”[xi] 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;[xii] Assyrian Christians constitute an inequitable proportion of local security forces in the Nineveh Plain as well as high-ranking law enforcement positions.[xiii] 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.[xiv]
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,”[xv] issued letters highlighting the failure of Iraq’s security forces to adequately protect minority groups,[xvi] and passed legislation establishing a special diplomatic envoy dedicated to promoting religious freedom in the region.[xvii] 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.
Carlo Ganjeh Aram Hamparian
Americas Secretary Executive Director
Assyrian Universal Alliance Armenian National Committee of America
Executive Director Armenian National
1.Establishment of a safe zone under international protection: Does the administration support the recommendations shared by UN human rights experts[xviii] and Iraqi civil society groups[xix] calling 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? Is the President willing to incorporate such a solution as part of his address to the UN Security Council next week?
2.Development of local security forces in the Nineveh Plain: Does the President’s plan to “support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units,” [xx] incorporate efforts to back the establishment of competent local security forces in the Nineveh Plain with members of minority communities indigenous to the area?
3.Distribution of humanitarian aid to besieged minorities: What procedures are in place to ensure that humanitarian assistance directed to minorities in Iraq reach intended recipients on the ground, given the administration’s past challenges in guaranteeing transparency and accountability when distributing aid to such communities? [xxi]
[i] Louisa Loveluck, “Christians flee Iraq’s Mosul after Islamists tell them: convert, pay or die,” Telegraph, July 19, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/10977698/Christians-flee-Iraqs-Mosul-after-Islamists-tell-them-convert-pay-or-die.html, (accessed, July 24, 2014).
[ii] Sophie Cousin, “The End of Days for Iraq’s Christians,” Foreign Policy Magazine, August 7, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/08/07/iraq_christians_end_days_islamic_state_mosul (accessed September 11, 2014).
[iii] “ISIS, Kurds Clash Near Assyrian Town, 2000 Assyrian Families Driven From Mosul,” Assyrian International News Agency, July 23, 2014, http://www.aina.org/news/20140723101146.pdf.
[iv] “No Mass said in Mosul for first time in 1,600 years, says Archbishop,” Christianity Today, June 28, 2014, http://www.christiantoday.com/article/no.mass.said.in.mosul.for.first.time.in.1600.years.says.archbishop/38493.htm (accessed September 11, 2014).
[v] Sean Kane, Iraq’s Disputed Territories, US Institute of Peace, 18, March 2011 http://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/PW69.pdf.
[vi] “200,000 Assyrians Have Fled the Nineveh Plain in the Last 24 Hours,” Assyrian International News Agency, August 7, 2014, http://www.aina.org/news/20140807050307.htm (accessed September 11, 2014).
[vii] “UN declares Iraq ‘Level 3 Emergency’ to trigger more resources, speed up aid delivery,” UN News Centre, August 14, 2014, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48483#.VBJ9sUtgb8E (accessed September 11, 2014).
[viii] “Security Council Press Statement on Persecution of Minorities in Mosul, Iraq,” UN Security Council, July 21, 2014, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2014/sc11484.doc.htm.
[ix] “Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the systematic persecution of minorities in Mosul,” UN Secretary General, July 20, 2014, http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=7880.
[x] Decision 1/85 Iraq, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, August 22, 2014, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CERD/EarlyWarning/early-warningDecisionIraq.pdf.
[xii] Constitution of Iraq, Article 9(1)(A)
[xiii] See Ethnic discrimination in the Iraqi police force The case of Assyrians in the Nineveh Plain of northern Iraq, Assyria Council of Europe, December 2010, 3, http://www.assyriacouncil.eu/resources/ACE$2B-$2BEthnic$2BDiscrimination$2Bin$2Bthe$2BIraq$2BPolice$2BForce.pdf (accessed March 14, 2014). The report indicates that in 2010, Assyrian Christians represented only 32 percent of the total number of police officers in Hamdaniya and 12 percent in Tel Keiff, despite constituting at least half of the total population in the two districts.
[xiv] Mohammed A Salih, “The Kurds are pushing Isis back – but it’s western airstrikes that tip the balance.” The Guardian, September 8, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/08/kurds-isis-western-airstrikes-kurdish-fighters (accessed September 11, 2014).
[xv] H. Res. 683, 113th Congress.
[xvi] 55 House Members Call On Administration To Do More To Protect Religious Minorities In Iraq, Congressman Frank Wolf, June 19, 2014, http://wolf.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/55-members-of-congress-call-on-obama-administration-to-do-more-to-ensure#.VBKLDEtgb8E. See also,
[xvii] Letter to President Obama, Congressman Fortenberry, August 1, 2014, http://fortenberry.house.gov/uploads/August%201%202014%20letter%20to%20White%20House.pdf.
[xviii] Supra note 15.
[xix] “Testimony of Her Excellency Pascal Warda,” Joint Subcommittee Hearing: Genocidal Attacks Against Christian and Other Religious Minorities in Syria and Iraq, September 10, 2014, 1, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA16/20140910/102642/HHRG-113-FA16-Wstate-WardaH-20140910.pdf.
[xx] “Transcript: President Obama’s speech outlining strategy to defeat Islamic State,” The Washington Post, September 10, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/full-text-of-president-obamas-speech-outlining-strategy-to-defeat-islamic-state/2014/09/10/af69dec8-3943-11e4-9c9f-ebb47272e40e_story.html (accessed September 11, 2014).
[xxi] “IRAQ: U.S. Assistance to Iraq’s Minority Groups in Response to Congressional Directives,” Government Accountability Office, July 10, 2012, http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592237.pdf.