Exclusive: Religious Minorities React to Islamic State Genocide Declaration

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Representatives from the religious minority community in the Middle East strongly support the Obama administration’s decision to finally concede that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is committing genocide against their people.

Breitbart News spoke with two Christians, two Yezidis, and a Shiite Turkmen about the recent declaration by the U.S. State Department that the atrocities committed by ISIS against members of their community constitutes genocide and humanity crimes.

“The Turkmen Rescue Foundation (TRF) stands in solidarity with the Assyrian Christians and Yezidis and considers this declaration an important step to relieve the suffering of all appressed communities in Iraq and Syria,” Dr. Ali Akram Al Bayati, a Shiite Turkmen and TRF chief, told Breitbart News. “We also support a resolution from the United Nations for the same purpose.”

He noted that the TRF appreciates Kerry’s determination.

Fr. Behnam Benoka, a Syriac Catholic priest from Iraq, welcomed the Obama administration’s genocide declaration as “good news.”

“Finally, we see a light shining for our future. From this historical moment we can see hope for our the upcoming days,” the priest from the Catholic church, which is in full communion with the Holy See of Rome, told Breitbart News via e-mail. “May this important declaration be followed by an official declaration from U.S. and U.N. to stop the acts of brutality, specially against undefended religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.”

Fr. Benoka added that he hopes to “see further actions following this declaration”:

  • The liberation of Iraq’s Nineveh Plain.
  • Securing peace in that area by an international force (not Arabs or Muslims)
  • Ensuring that the rights and human dignity of the religious minorities (especially Christians and Yezidis) are cemented in the Iraqi and Syrian constitutions.

Omar Haider and Khalid Sulaiman Haider, two Yezidi activists originally from the Iraqi border town of Sinjar who now live in the U.S. because of threats against them, also reacted to Kerry’s genocide declaration.

They noted that the atrocities committed by ISIS are unprecedented and blamed the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for allowing the genocide to carry on.

Both activists served as translators for the U.S. government in Iraq. Breitbart News learned that Omar lost 36 family members in 2014 when ISIS attacked the Iraqi town of Sinjar, located in Nineveh province, which is also home to many members of northern Iraq’s Christian community.

Although both Omar and Khalid share the same common Yezidi tribal last name, they are not related.

“Yezidis need the ability to protect ourselves so this will not happen again. Yezidis and Assyrian Christians are the indigenous people and we want to return to our homeland and remain there in peace,” Omar told Breitbart News. “We look forward to the liberation of the remaining Yezidi areas under ISIS control… We need safe havens and no-fly zones in Iraq and Syria.”

Omar went on to thank Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) for introducing a non-binding resolution earlier this week, condemning ISIS atrocities as genocide.

“Throughout the history of Middle East there had been military genocide campaigns against the indigenous ones, but it’s never reached to what it’s like today,” added Khalid, in a statement to Breitbart News. “What happened to the Yezidis, Christians and other minorities in both Iraq and Syria is nothing but the result of gross negligence from some governments in Iraq and other regional governments.”

Retired Lt. Col. Sargis Sangari, who was deployed to Iraq during his 20-year career in the U.S. Army, said the declaration is a step in the right direction.

He serves as an advisor for the Assyrian Army, known as Dwekh Nawsha (self-sacrifice), in Iraq. Col. Sangari, who heads the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement, identifies as an Assyrian Christian.

“The statement by Secretary of State Kerry was surprising,” he told Breitbart News. “Although it is a start toward addressing the security issues in the region, it falls short just as the House resolution, designating the Islamic State’s violence against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities as genocide, fell short.”

He added:

The Islamic State will now target the Assyrian and Yezidis in Assyria, Nineveh Plain more actively as a way of replying to Secretary Kerry’s statement and to the Congressional failure to recognize the Assyrians as an ethnicity…

Both the State Department and Congress have failed to recognize the genocide against the Assyrian ethnicity by lumping the Assyrians into a Christian denominational category only. Although the Assyrians are Christians, their ethnicity is being eradicated: they are Assyrian Christians.


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