Bipartisan Resolution Introduced: Persecution of Mideast Christians is ‘Genocide’

By Lauretta Brown | September 10, 2015 | 6:14 PM EDT

Iraqi Christian refugees attend an outdoor prayer service near Amman, Jordan on Aug. 8, 2015, marking a year since their displacement from communities overtaken by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadists. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh, File)

( – Persecution of Christians in the Middle East constitutes genocide, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said Thursday, “because the oldest of the Christian communities are really being wiped out.”

Eshoo introduced legislation this week along with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebr.), calling for the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) and others be labeled “genocide.” The two lawmakers are co-chairs of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus.

“The legislation that has been introduced is legislation that calls what is happening in the Middle East a genocide,” Eshoo said in an address to the In Defense of Christians convention on Capitol Hill.

“A genocide, because the oldest of the Christian communities are really being wiped out and there are so many other religious people of religious backgrounds that are going with them too,” she added.

“I think that unless we call this and name this what it is, that we will be judged poorly and so it’s with sadness that I say that we have legislation to call this a genocide,” Eshoo said.

Fortenberry described Christianity in the Middle East as “shattered.”

“The ancient faith tradition lies beaten, broken, and dying. Yet Christians in Iraq and Syria are hanging on in the face of the Islamic State’s barbarous onslaught. This is genocide. The international community must confront the scandalous silence about their plight. Christians, Yezidis, and other religious minorities have every right to remain in their ancestral homelands.”

Eshoo is a Chaldean Catholic and first generation American, with an Armenian mother and Assyrian Christian father from Iraq.

She called freedom of religion “one of the great values of our country that we export around the world.”

“That’s why we’re engaged in this.”

Eshoo sponsored legislation that became law in August 2014, requiring the president to appoint a special envoy to promote religious freedom of religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.

Despite repeated calls from Congress and religious groups for the post to be filled quickly, Obama has yet to appoint the envoy.

Armenians still waiting

In her remarks Thursday, Eshoo also referenced the killings of 1.5 million Armenians as the Ottoman Empire unraveled a century ago, which the administration – to the dismay of Armenian-Americans and the satisfaction of the Turkish government – has declined to call a genocide.

“We know in the 20th century that the first genocide was the Armenian genocide and our country has still not stood up, Congress has not stood up to say, acknowledge that it was a genocide,” Eshoo said. “Imagine that, a hundred years later.”

Despite pledging when running for the presidency to recognize the Armenian genocide, President Barack Obama has not done so since taking office.

On his campaign website in 2008, then-Sen. Obama said that: “[T]he Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

However, when asked at an April 2009 press conference with then-Turkish President Abdullah Gul about recognizing the genocide by name, Obama replied, “[W]hat I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them.”

Last April, as Armenians prepared to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the mass killings, anticipation mounted that Obama would use the occasion finally to meet his campaign pledge. He did not.

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