AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
After months of pressure from lawmakers, clergy and some Southern California-based organizations, Secretary of State John Kerry used the word genocide Thursday to describe atrocities committed by the Islamic State not only toward Yazidis, but also on Christians and other ethnic minorities who live in the Middle East.
By calling the Islamic State’s actions a genocide against Christians symbolizes a change within the Obama administration, members of Southern California’s Armenian and Assyrian organizations noted, The Los Angeles Daily News reports.
The Knights of Columbus, the Armenian National Committee of America and nearly 30 other bishops and groups agreed in a letter to Kerry last year that the Yazidis endured great suffering. But they also urged the Obama administration to consider the beheadings, forced conversions, deportations, and destruction of churches by ISIS against the ancient Christian people of Iraq and Syria as genocide.
“My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that, in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims,” said Kerry, using the Arabic word for ISIS. “Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions – in what it says, what it believes, and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”
Kerry’s announcement came three days after the House of Representatives unanimously voted to support a nonbinding resolution that calls the actions of ISIS a genocide against Christians and other ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.
Several California lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, backed the resolution and said it gives the United States leverage to hold ISIS accountable if it came time to accuse its leaders of crimes against humanity. The congressman’s San Fernando Valley district includes a large Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian diaspora community.
“While the resolution itself doesn’t outline what military actions to take, I think it serves to justify we need to take the gloves off,” Sherman said earlier this week.
Kerry’s announcement may also encourage passage of another resolution that calls on President Obama to encourage Turkey’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide which took place beginning in 1915 and resulting in nearly 1.5 million deaths among them alone, said Nora Hovsepian, chairwoman of the Glendale-based Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region. Many Armenians who survived later settled in towns in Syria, where ISIS recently destroyed their churches and forced them to leave.
More than 160,000 Armenians and their supporters marched through Hollywood last year to mark the centennial start of the genocide and to call for global recognition.
Another rally to demand reparations will be held on April 24 in front of the Turkish Consulate.
“We believe this is a new day in terms of speaking truth of what is happening in the region,” Hovsepian said. “We believe the next logical step would be passage of H.R. 154. I think Kerry’s announcement should give wind to the sails of the resolution because it’s along the same lines. Armenians were persecuted by the Ottoman Turks. Genocide was committed against us. Now the same thing is happening again.”
Members of A Demand for Action, a group founded in 2014 to raise awareness and create a safe haven in Iraq for indigenous people and minorities, said they were pleased with Kerry’s statement but will press lawmakers to hold the perpetrators accountable.
“We are thanking every organization, every person that shed light of this genocide,” said Nuri Kino, a Swedish Assyrian author and journalist who founded A Demand For Action. “It’s a joint effort. This shows that grassroots movements works.”
Ramond Takhsh, president of the North Hollywood-based Assyrian American Association Southern California, called Kerry’s announcement an important step forward for his people.
“We have been witnessing our brothers and sisters being kidnapped, killed, or forced to leave in Iraq and Syria due to their religious and ethnic identity”, Takhsh said in a statement. “We are pleased that the U.S. Government is finally taking action to label this tragedy as it should, which is a genocide”.