ANCA partners with ‘In Defense of Christians’ to stop genocide of minorities in Middle East

Calls for concrete U.S. leadership to protect Middle East Christians from extremist violence took center stage on Capitol Hill last week as advocates from across America and around the world gathered for the In Defense of Christians (IDC) convention.

From the opening September 9th press conference held at the National Press Club, the three day event featured commentary by Members of Congress and powerful calls by constituent advocates for global condemnation of ongoing anti-Christian attacks in the Middle East as genocide, and equally forceful demands for U.S. leadership in securing the safety and meeting the humanitarian needs of at-risk indigenous Christian, Yezidi, and other minority communities.

Hamparian: We Must Elevate U.S. Response to Genocide from a Political Choice to a Moral Imperative
During the opening press conference for the IDC convention, titled “ISIS, Genocide, and an International Response,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian stressed the need for the U.S. and international communities to shift their response to genocide from politics to morality. “If we can elevate our nation’s response [to genocide] from a political choice to a moral imperative, then all of the pieces will fall into place.” explained Hamparian, as part of a broader review of the requirements of U.S. anti-genocide policy.

Referencing the Armenian Genocide, Hamparian outlined the dangers of not properly characterizing and punishing ongoing acts of genocide. “Right now, the perpetrators of genocide know that if they perpetrate these crimes, and they have sufficient political will and sufficient political power, they can get the world to back off – to not intervene and ultimately to buy into their lies, because I guarantee you that the crimes that are being committed today, will be denied tomorrow.”

Wolf: “We failed the Armenians in the Armenian Genocide… Will we fail in the Middle East?”
Retired Congressman and renowned human rights advocate Frank Wolf (R-VA) headlined the press conference which also included remarks by Catholic University Law Professor Robert Destro, Genocide Watch President Dr. Gregory Stanton, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Member Katrina Lantos Swett, IDC Executive Director Kirsten Evans, and Hamparian.

Panelists were unified in their call for the classification of ISIS and other extremist attacks against Middle Eastern Christian and minority communities as genocide. Wolf offered his recommendation in no uncertain terms. “What we now see in Iraq and Syria is genocide. It meets the official Rafael Lemkin definition, it is genocide. It is genocide of Christians, of the Yezidis and probably the Turkomen and a few other religious minorities.”

Congressman Wolf was adamant in urging a concrete U.S. response, sharing a letter sent by the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, where he calls on Attorney General Loretta Lynch to “initiate a thorough investigation into individuals who may be criminally liable under U.S. law for genocide and other serious human rights abuses such as slavery.”

Congressman Wolf, who served as Co-Chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and had been a vocal advocate of U.S. reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide during his 34 years in office, explained: “The President stood in front of the Holocaust Memorial in 2012 and declared ‘Never Again’ five times. We failed the Armenians in the Armenian Genocide – we failed them. To have called that genocide would have only honored those who were killed – nothing more was to gain – but we failed them. We failed in Srebernica. You remember General Dallaire in Rwanda that said genocide is coming and we failed them. Will we fail in the Middle East?”

Dr. Stanton shared an appeal signed by over 40 prominent International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) experts calling on Congress to declare the crimes committed by ISIS ‘genocide’ and went on to urge the UN Security Council to refer ISIS crimes to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution. Dr. Stanton explained the imperative of properly characterizing the Middle East events, citing empirical studies by Genocide Watch that there is “four times more of a chance of forceful action to stop it if you call it genocide. Genocide is a powerful word – and we should be using it.”

IDC Executive Director Kirsten Evans outlined the importance of unity in sharing Christian and minority concerns with US leaders and the international community. “We need to continue to organize a unified, strong, and a solid voice of ecumenical concern and political advocacy on this issue. And that voice needs to come from a tapestry of different communities and a lot of different corners of the world, but the voice itself needs to be orchestrated so that it is sound, and vibrant and solid and it is heard,” explained Evans.

In outlining IDC’s requests from Congress and the Administration, Evans outlined options for a military response to the crisis, and went on to ask international governments to: prioritize assistance for refugees and displaced persons; expedite the refugee classification process for those in danger of religious or ethnic persecution; expand coordinated humanitarian aid with guarantees for delivery to displaced communities; to work with international organizations and churches to preserve Christian culture in the region; guarantee the return of property to the rightful owners of communities when the conflict is resolved; and, explore ways to invest in education on an international level in order to fight radicalization and promote religious tolerance. “In short,” said Davis, “we as members of the American community need to be asking our policy makers to elevate religious freedom and freedom of conscience in U.S. international policy making.”

US Legislation Spotlights Genocide of Christians; Urges Refugee and Security Assistance
At the conclusion of the September 9th press conference, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation declaring ISIS attacks against Christians and other minorities ‘genocide’ and calling on the United Nations and member countries to pursue the punishment of these crimes. H.Con.Res. 75, spearheaded in cooperation with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and with the support of Representatives Trent Franks (R-AZ), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Jeff Denham (R-CA), and Juan Vargas (D-CA) has over 35 cosponsors.

“Beginning with a resolution that calls this for what it is – a genocide – a wholesale slaughter of people, a grave injustice, we’ll hopefully elevate the conscience of the entire world as to what’s happening and attack the scandal of indifference – the scandal of silence that Pope Francis has stated,” explained Rep. Fortenberry at a meeting with IDC advocates the following morning. “It also has implications for those in a position to migrate, but it does not give up on the idea that Christianity as well as other faith traditions have every right to stay in their ancient homeland as anyone else.”

Congresswoman Eshoo concurred, describing Congressional efforts to stop the genocide against Christians and minorities in the Middle East a “calling.” She explained, “I am a first generation American – my mother, Armenian; my father, Assyrian. […] The stories of my family, and why they fled, and what they endured is repeating itself – is repeating itself all over again in the Middle East. And so, the work that we have devoted ourselves to – we are called to do.”

Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) told IDC supporters that he is working with Rep. David Trott (R-MI) on legislation, to be introduced soon, focusing “on the Assyrian, Chaldean, Yazidi, Syriac Christian, and Armenian communities and the need not only to provide assistance to refugees but to provide security assistance to those who are trying to stay in their homeland.”

Congressman Sherman ex
plained, “Christianity began in the Middle East – it thrived in the Middle East, and it is not up to ISIS to determine where Christians are allowed to live.” He also called for President Obama to appoint a Special Envoy to promote religious freedom in the Middle East – a position that was created last year by Congressional mandate, but that has yet to be filled.

Rep. Trott concurred and went further. “We need to call the President and Congress to devote more resources to the problems – where Christians are victims around the world. We need to call attention to our allies and adversaries who are killing Christians around the world to call them out on it, to withhold our aid, and threaten them with the full force of the superpower that the US is,” stated Rep. Trott, who is currently working with House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders to schedule a field hearing in Michigan to hear from individuals affected by ISIS and other extremist group attacks in the Middle East.

“Back in April, I was proud to go to Armenia as part of the 100-year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide,” continued Rep. Trott. “The President, the United States still won’t call it a genocide and that’s the kind of proactive leadership that this country needs to be known for and needs to fill on the world stage.”

The Armenian Genocide and the consequences of inaction were woven in remarks by many Members of Congress at the September 10th advocate briefing, including in a statement by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Robert Dold (R-IL) and Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA). “We should remember that in 1939, Hitler reassured his comrades that they could get away with Genocide,” stated Rep. Pitts. “He [Hitler] asked, ‘Who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?’ Tyrants and evil men count on the indifference of the world and the fact that you are here shows that you are not indifferent – so thank you for standing against religious persecution.”

Expanding Coalitions with Christian Communities
The ANCA joined His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and over 500 community and religious leaders concerned with the plight of the Christian and minority communities in the Middle East for this second IDC convention, titled “Mobilizing America for Christians in the Middle East.” Archbishop Choloyan, who is also President of Christian and Arab Middle Eastern Churches Together (CAMECT), attended the September 9th press conference and explained the importance of Armenian participation in events like the IDC convention. “Several years ago, those churches who have their mother churches in the Middle East, came together to raise awareness among Americans. Unfortunately, a very fanatic approach of interpreting religion has emerged in the region, and because of that, all the minorities in the Middle East are suffering, and among them, the Christians. We, as Armenians, are part of that region. We came to that region with a memory of Genocide and now we understand very clearly the feelings of these communities.” Archbishop Choloyan was among top clergy celebrating an ecumenical mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Capitol Hill later that evening.

On September 10th, following the Congressional meeting with IDC participants, ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian was among top advocacy professionals offering insights on effective ways to relay the community concerns to elected officials on Capitol Hill. Nahapetian and representatives of several human rights and religious freedom organizations offered detailed, practical advice to generating support for legislation such as H.Con.Res. 75 and creating awareness about the crises facing Armenian and, more broadly, all Middle Eastern Christians and minority communities.

Later that day, Hamparian was interviewed on the Nightly News Report on EWTN – the Global Catholic Network – and offered the ANCA’s insights on the IDC conference, the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East, and the importance of bringing together and collaborating with Christian and minority communities across the U.S. to raise broader awareness and secure concrete U.S. action regarding the crisis.

Karabakh to host “French Days in Artsakh” festival

On September 17-19, “French Days in Artsakh” festival will be held in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. In the framework of the festival a range of events presenting France and its culture will take place in Artsakh. The festival’s aim is to strengthen and broaden friendly ties, dialogue and cooperation between Artsakh and France.

Around 200 guests from France, representing France-Karabakh Friendship Circle, municipalities of French towns twinned with Artsakh communities, Support to Karabakh association and Armenian community of France, as well as artists and journalists will visit Artsakh in the framework of the festival.

The ceremonies of gala opening of the “Eternity” sculpture (by Toros) in the Stepanakert square of France and laying the foundation of The House of Paul Eluard francophone center, festive event in Stepanakert school N1, the demonstration of Artsakh and French cuisines, ceremony of the opening of Yeznik Mozyan vocational school in Shushi, the presentation of animation films of Folimage French studio at the State Museum of Fine Arts of Shushi, contest on making postcards symbolizing the Karabakh-France friendship in Stepanakert’s Shahumian Square are included in the program of “French Days in Artsakh” festival. A concert at Stepanakert Revival square on September 19 by French-Armenian singer Patrick Fiori will conclude the festival.

Turkey’s HDP pro-Kurdish opposition party HQ attacked

The headquarters of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition party has been attacked. Windows were smashed at the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) building in Ankara, Euronews reports.

Nationalist anger towards Kurds has increased in response to a number of recent attacks on security forces and police officers by the outlawed Kurdish militant group PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

“Tonight alone, 186 attacks were carried out. And our headquarters were targeted. This is definitely a planned attack that was orchestrated from one particular place,” said HDP Deputy Chaiman Alp Alitinors. “The president and his staff at the palace are the ones behind these attacks.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the HDP of links to the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Erdogan has suggested that the immunity from prosecution of its lawmakers be lifted.

The attack on the HDP’s building comes after 14 police officers were killed on Tuesday (September 8) by Kurdish militants in a bomb attack in the east of the country.

The State of Rio de Janeiro recognizes the Armenian Genocide

The State of Rio de Janeiro recognized the Armenian Genocide on Friday, July 24 through a law that establishes  April 24 as “Day of recognition and memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide,” Prensa Armenia reports.

The law was enacted by the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Luiz Fernando Pezão.

Rio de Janeiro is the fourth State in Brazil that recognizes the Genocide, along with Parana, Ceara and Sao Paulo. Months ago, the Brazilian Senate passed a vote of solidarity with the Armenian people for the centenary of crime against humanity.

Azerbaijan intensifies shelling at the line of contact

The Azerbaijani side has intensified the shelling at the line of contact between the armed forces of Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

On June 14 the rival used 60mm mine throwers as it fired in the southern direction on July 14.

The front divisions of the NKR Defense Army mostly remained committed to the ceasefire regime and resorted to response actions only in case of extreme necessity.

Andover high students ‘Armenianize’ their school

Thanks to some vigilant action by students of Armenian descent at Andover High School, an Armenian flag is now flying from the rafters and new books portraying their history and culture are found inside the library, the reports.

Their actions coincided with a recent genocide presentation at the school in commemoration of the 1.5 million martyrs lost in 1915 at the hands of Ottoman Turkey, and another million uprooted from their homes.

Noticing there was no Armenian tricolor represented in the library’s “League of Nations,” the students moved forward, secured a flag, and were part of a presentation ceremony before their peers.

The books were donated by Lucine Kasbarian, author of Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People—a perfect read for students.

“Flags from every other country were displayed in our library and we wanted to be included, especially this year with the anniversary,” said junior Ani Minasian. “Turkey was there. Afghanistan was represented. But not Armenia. It could have been an oversight, but not anymore.”

Brendan Gibson, a social studies teacher, regularly engages his students on genocide history and awareness. More than 100 filled the library for a presentation earlier this spring.

“It was an honor having members of the Genocide Education Committee [of Merrimack Valley] here to educate students,” said Gibson. “This tragedy is still relevant today. We hope that greater awareness will result toward a shift in United States policy. It’s critical that Armenia is recognized by the League of Nations. By having the flag and books here, it’s one more vital step toward universal recognition.”

John Berube, a library media specialist at the school, was surprised by the missing Armenian flag, noting that one was displayed many years ago, but “somehow disappeared.”

“I knew we were missing some but didn’t realize that one was an Armenian flag,” he said. “This presentation could not have occurred at a better time, with the Centennial observance. The students must be commended for bringing this matter to our attention.”

A computer check showed only three Armenian books on file. Given the number of students taking genocide and human rights classes, more could be used.

“It’s a hugely important subject in our curriculum,” Berube added. “Because we operate on a fixed budget, we cannot afford a lot of books and rely on outside contributions. Many students do take advantage of the library.”

Joining Ani Minasian in the presentation was her brother Richard, Michael Mahlebjian, Anna Shahtanian, all of St. Gregory Church, North Andover, and Christopher Berberian, of the Armenian Church at Hye Pointe, Haverhill.

Earlier this year, Noah Aznoian of North Andover donated an Armenian flag to the Pingree School in Hamilton, where he’s a freshman, and helped organize a program for Armenian Martyrs Day on April 24.

“Our mission is not only to educate students on the genocide but to get them involved in moments like these,” said Dro Kanayan of North Andover, chairman of the Armenian Genocide Education Committee of Merrimack Valley, which has been delivering programs to local schools over the past seven years.

“We want them to become young ambassadors for the Armenian Cause and use what education they are taught to benefit their communities,” he added.

Kamp Armen still not returned, 2nd rally planned for Friday evening

– 52 days have now passed since the resistance began at Kamp Armen on May 6 after bulldozers entered the camp in Tuzla to demolish the facilities. Despite promises made by the government and municipality, the deed has still not been returned to the Armenian community.

The resistance began when the current property owner tried to demolish the camp in order to realize his own project. It had initially appeared that significant process had been made in meetings before the general election. In a statement he made on May 23, Fatih Ulusoy, the current owner of the property, had declared he would donate the camp to the Gedikpaşa Armenian Protestant Church. Following the statement, Ulusoy submitted a document announcing the donation to the Church Foundation; however, the document is worthless unless the donation is registered at the deed office.

Meetings that also included Tuzla Municipality continued throughout last week, but no clear statement was made to the public regarding at which stage the return process was facing a deadlock. It was also revealed that Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş had also taken part in the recent meetings. Sides taking part in meetings stated only that the process might accelerate in the coming week.

Kamp Armen Solidarity and Nor Zartonk held a press conference last Friday, and criticized the failure to return the camp. The statement read: “Since the injustice was caused by the State, it needs to be solved by the State. That is why we are not part of the commission for negotiations. The State is trying to hide behind the property owner in developing a solution. The owner initially said he had paid for the property, and he could sell it back to the Armenian community; but then, and these are his own words, he declared he would donate the property upon the requests of other actors in the process, including the Prime Minister. How did this change take place? We do not know the link between the two because the process is not transparent.”

Kamp Armen Solidarity and Nor Zartonk are holding a second rally on 26 June 2015, Friday, at 19:30, that will begin in Tünel Square, with the slogan “Enough with Delaying Tactics – Return Kamp Armen to the Armenian People”. A rally will also be held on Yüksel Street in Ankara on the same day.

Protests renew in Yerevan: Police issue warning

Protests renewed in Yerevan today after the Police used water cannons to disperse the sit-in on Baghramyan Avenue early in the morning.

The Police issued a statement, urging the protesters to refrain from any violation of law, and warned it will resort to actions reserved by law in case of any violation of public order.

The Police also reminded the organizers of the rally that they carry personal responsibility for the protection of rights and security of the participants.

“Let’s remember that we are the citizens of the same country and are responsible not only for the security and future of each other, but also the country, as a whole,” the statement reads.

The protests were sparked by the decision of the Public Services Regulatory Commission to increase power tarriffs from August 1, 2015.

FIFA’s Sepp Blatter ‘under investigation in US’

FIFA President Sepp Blatter is being investigated by US officials as part of their inquiry into corruption at the world football body, the BBC reports.

The news came hours after Mr Blatter, 79, announced that he was stepping down from his role.

US prosecutors launched a criminal inquiry last week, with seven FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland, part of a group of 14 people indicted.

Two days after the arrests, Mr Blatter was re-elected president of FIFA.

However, he said on Tuesday that it appeared the mandate he had been given “does not seem to be supported by everyone in the world”.

Mr Blatter said: “FIFA needs profound restructuring.” He said he would continue in post until an extraordinary congress is called to elect a new president.

No dates have been set, but it is expected to take place between December 2015 and March 2016.

Armenian Genocide play staged at Polish theatre – Video

With their new work, Armine, Sister, Teatr ZAR, the resident company of Poland’s famous Grotowski Institute, evokes what happened in 1915 when the Turks killed more than a million Armenians – a genocide that Turkey still denies, reports.

Through singing, movement, and metaphors, Armine, Sister reflects on the world’s silence on the near extermination. The piece, which has been wildly successful in Europe, goes to the San Francisco International Art Festival (SFIAF) for its U.S. premiere. Seeing it with others is a powerful act, says Jaroslaw Fret, the artistic director of Teatr ZAR.
“In the same moment we are creating one small community and we all are witnessing something that does not belong to our experience, but to humankind,” said Fret. “We try to reduce our ignorance.”
Teatr ZAR started traveling to Georgia and Armenia in 1999. For years, they have been working on polyphonic singing, but for this piece, they have trained in Armenian monodic traditions. Along with new musical ideas,Armine, Sister differs from past work by adding people outside the company for the first time, such as Istanbul-born Aram Kerovpyan, master-singer of the Armenian Cathedral of Paris, along with other singers from Turkey as well as from Iran and Armenian.
Fret sees the incorporating of Armenian singing as a way to bear witness — to create a sort of monument to those who were killed as well as those who survived. The group, which made its Northern California debut in 2011 (also as part of the SFIAF) with Gospels of Childhood Triptych, is known for its powerful and evocative pieces, incorporating music and movement without text. Paige Rogers, co-founder of the Cutting Ball Theatre in the Tenderloin, was so enamored of their style that she brought the whole cast of the Cutting Ball’s production this season of Antigone to Poland for a two-week training workshop with movement and music coaches

Doing theater is all about powerfully affecting people, Fret thinks.

“It’s like a political stone thrown into the water and next you see the circles,” he said. “You see the waves in the audiences and in the other artists.”