Chaldean Catholic bishop: Recognize genocide in Syria

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A Chaldean Catholic bishop from Southfield was among a panel of experts testifying on Capitol Hill on Wednesday about the persecution and expulsion of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq, and urging the Obama administration to recognize it as genocide.

“The U.S. government should not turn a blind eye to the genocidal atrocities. Proclaim it for what it is,” said Francis Kalabat, bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, a diocese covering the eastern United States.

Kalabat said more than 150,000 Iraqi Christians have been displaced in northern Iraq or have fled to countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. He described “countless” Christian villages in Syria that have been taken over by Islamic State extremists and encountered genocide.

“The Obama administration again refuses to recognize their plight. I say, shame on you,” Kalabat said.

“Short of a genuine solution, Christians and other ethno-religious minorities of Nineveh will become extinct,” he added, using the name of the region north and east of Mosul in northern Iraq.

Kalabat encouraged the U.S. government to continue to work with the United Nations, churches, charities, private corporations to provide humanitarian relief in the area, and suggested the establishment of an autonomous region for Christians and other religious minorities such as Yezidis — an ancient religious minority in Iraq.

Mirza Ismail, chairman of the Yezidi Human Rights Organization International, testified that ISIS has “wiped from existence” one of the most culturally diverse areas in the Middle East.

Ismail described his people as on the verge of annihilation, and, “in response to our suffering, around the world there is profound, obscene silence,” he said.

Gregory H. Stanton, president of the group Genocide Watch and a research professor at George Mason University, said a declaration of genocide matters because use of the term typically indicates a willingness to take action to stop the killing.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who convened Wednesday’s hearing, noted a UN resolution last year recognizing that both Yezidis and Christians were particular targets of ISIS.

The Obama administration “is reportedly considering declaring the ISIS treatment of Yezidis to be genocide, but there is no indication that Christians will be included. This is absurd,” Smith said. “Such an action would be contrary to the facts and tragically wrong.”

The State Department has not made any formal finding of genocide at this time, a department official said Wednesday, noting that ISIS’ victims over a wide range of ethnic and religious minorities.

“Our policy and objective is to degrade and defeat ISIL and hold perpetrators accountable,” the official said, using another term for ISIS.

”The protection of members of groups under attack and the provision of humanitarian assistance to members of displaced groups are vitally important and will continue to be a key priority for the U.S. government.”

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