Republican and Democratic members of a key U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee joined with the panel’s Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), in voicing growing Congressional concern for the welfare of Armenians, other Christians, and all religious minority communities in Syria, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“We want to thank Chairman Chris Smith for holding yesterday’s hearing about religious minorities in Syria, and would also like to share our special appreciation with all his colleagues who joined with him in using this important national platform to raise concerns about the welfare of at-risk and refugee Armenians, other Christians, and all Syrian minorities,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
“We are particularly grateful for Chairman Smith’s formal request of the Obama Administration to share with Congress the specific steps that our government is taking to ensure that U.S. aid programs provide needed assistance to vulnerable Armenians in Syria, as well as for those who have left Syria and found refuge in Armenia. We very much look forward to sharing the work of our State Department and USAID on this matter of urgent concern to all Armenian Americans.”
The hearing, titled: “Religious Minorities in Syria: Caught in the Middle,” featured testimony from a State Department human rights official, Thomas O. Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, as well as from a number of experts: Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom; Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Rev. Majed El Shafie, Founder of One Free World International, and; John Eibner, Ph.D., CEO of Christian Solidarity International, USA.
Concerns about the Armenian population and the broader plight of religious minorities in Syria were spotlighted throughout the hearing. Chairman Smith, referencing a hearing on the Armenian Genocide Resolution that he had chaired in 1996, asked what specific steps the Obama Administration had taken to assist the Armenian refugees who have fled Syria. Deputy Assistant Secretary Melia noted that U.S. officials have been in touch with Armenian Church and community leaders but would get back to the Subcommittee with a detailed response.
During her testimony, Ms. Shea offered specific examples of the targeting of Christians, including the Armenian population, and noted overall that “Though no religious community has been spared suffering, Syria’s ancient Christian minority has cause to believe that they confront an ‘existential threat,’ according to a finding of the UN Human Right Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria, last December. And this group, in contrast to Syria’s Alawites, Shiites and Sunnis, has no defender.”
Dr. Eibner drew a chilling parallel between the Syrian crisis and efforts to bring democratic reform to the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. “One cannot help but look back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, when in 1908 there was a great revolution, we might call it the Ottoman Spring where members of all religious communities, ethnic minorities were dancing in the streets to celebrate freedom and within a decade there is genocide and Anatolia is completely cleared of its religious minorities. It can happen. It can happen today, this year. It can happen next year and the United States has an international obligation to try to prevent genocide…”