Religious Freedom Institute Executive Director Kent Hill

Panel Addresses the Disappearing Christian Population in the Middle East

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WASHINGTON — Armenian-American leaders and activists from across the country gathered earlier this Fall in the nation’s capital for the Armenian Assembly of America 2018 National Advocacy Conference and Gala in a unified effort to strengthen congressional support for United States-Armenia relations and to raise concerns in the House and Senate. As part of its Advocacy Conference, the Assembly organized a panel of experts sharing their insights of the realities of the persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church Director Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe at the Armenian Assembly’s 2018 National Advocacy Conference

The conference attendees heard from National Council of Churches (NCC) President and General Secretary Jim Winkler, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church Director Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, and The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) Executive Director Kent Hill, and asked questions about what can be done on Capitol Hill to help this minority community. The panel was moderated by Armenian Church of America (Eastern Diocese) Diocesan Legate Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, former NCC president and member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Committee on Faith Based Initiatives.

“I think this is an excellent contribution to this assembly to know about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East — the forgotten minorities,” Aykazian said.

RFI Executive Director Hill started the discussion by describing his experience traveling to Armenia while representing the US Government and US Agency for International Development (USAID), and expressed his admiration at seeing some of the oldest churches in Christian history.

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian at the conference

He then continued with daunting facts about the current Christian population in the Middle East, and shared with the audience findings and statistics that he prepared for congressional testimony this past June. “Of the three million Christians who are estimated to have been living in Iraq and Syria in 2003, 75-80 percent of them have been forced to abandon their homes because of sectarian violence, civil war, the rise of the brutal Islamic State. Of the 1.5 million Christians in Iraq in 2003, perhaps only 200,000 remain, and many of them are IDPs (internally displaced persons),” he said.

“Despite repeated Administration promises and Congressional pleas to respond quickly to be of assistance to the IDPs in the quest to return home, this simply did not happen, though I am pleased to report that in recent months there seems to be a commitment to do more in the future than has been done in the past,” Hill added. “It is not too late to make a difference. We are capable of moving much more quickly than we have been moving, but that will never happen if we are not persuaded that this is really a priority.”

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Hill is part of an advisory committee to USAID mandated by Congress, comprising faith-based organizations. He assured the conference attendees that, according to Congress, more money will go to help the minorities.

Crowe explained that she has “traveled to several Middle Eastern regions throughout the years” and has “seen some of the disastrous results of economic, political, and nationalistic aims. And, very often, it does in fact affect religious minorities and indigenous peoples.”

National Council of Churches NCC President and General Secretary Jim Winkler

After speaking about updates in the region, she pressed the participants to take the next step to help the Christian minorities. “Being with the people and hearing the stories of what their lives are like on the ground are very, very important. So, I urge you to continue to go and see, and then to go back to your homes and tell the stories of the Christians in the Middle East,” Crowe concluded.

The NCC president, who recently traveled to the region, encouraged everyone to engage in public policy advocacy and fight for the Christian population. “Life is harder and harder for Christians throughout the Middle East, and Christians in the United States must stand and act with solidarity on their behalf,” Winkler said.

“We believe that Christians in the United States must be made more aware of the dire situation of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East and that education about their situation must be our priority for action,” he continued. “We believe that Christians of the United States must engage in public policy advocacy — such as what you are doing — that supports the well-being of our church members of the Middle East. This includes constructive remedies for the extremist violence and responses to human rights violations throughout the region.”

 

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