Seven Steps America Can Take to Save, Protect and Empower the Aramean Christians of the Middle East
The Persecution of Christians in the Holy Lands & Middle East:
Consequences & Solutions
The 3rd Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom
December 5, 2017
Distinguished Excellencies and Eminences,
Ladies and gentlemen,
KALIMERA, good afternoon, and EFHARISTÓ POLÝ, many thanks to the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle for granting me the opportunity to discuss the plight of the Middle Eastern Christians in one of the most powerful centers of the world.
In doing so, I will not repeat what others already have said about their underreported sufferings such as genocide, ethnic cleansing and alarming mass exoduses from their homeland. Instead, this opening statement will propose seven crucial steps America can take to empower the indigenous Aramean or Syriac people of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
First, however, I would like to address U.S. state officials, policy makers and academics, whose presence today is greatly appreciated. As an Aramean Christian from the Netherlands whose family comes from Southeast Turkey, my two most urgent and critical messages to you are:
- First, in just twelve years from now, by the year 2030, Christianity can be declared clinically dead in Biblical places like Turkey, Iraq and Syria.
- Second, due to the disastrous effects of U.S. foreign policy upon the Christians of Iraq and Syria, America would do well to assume its responsibility and moral duty to help save and protect these neglected victims. We cannot forget that these brave people live in a hostile region and still carry the banner of the religion of America’s founding fathers, who defended core values like religious freedom, liberty, self-government and equality that these vulnerable minorities are yearning for in a region that seems to dispose of pluralism and diversity.
I appeal to your good conscience to act and to make your colleagues realize that America cannot waste time, but must act now to prevent the looming death of Christianity in its native lands. The following seven steps will help realize just that and you can help us to achieve them.
- CONSOLIDATING PRESENCE IN HOMELAND
First and foremost, Arameans do not wish to leave their homeland. Therefore, we must end their declining presence through humanitarian and development aid. We can also consolidate their position by contributing to peace and security, and especially by giving them incentives to stay home, such as creating job and education opportunities for the youth.
- FOCUS ON DIASPORA COMMUNITY
Second, we can strengthen their organizations in the diaspora to represent the social, economic and political issues of their people at state level. We can fund them to monitor, document and publish about the human rights abuses at home, to lobby for recognition and appreciation by their governments, to take part in the Geneva peace talks on Syria, and to legally fight the ongoing confiscation of land and property as in Southeast Turkey that belong to ancient churches, monasteries and families.
- RECLAIMING HERITAGE AND IDENTITY
Third, we can help them to rediscover and claim their Aramean roots. Just like the Greek and Armenian Orthodox, the Aramean Christians are a people in their own right with a rich cultural heritage. As the indigenous people of Turkey, Iraq and Syria, they used to be the majority before they were decimated, became a minority and became victims of state-sponsored assimilation programs. That’s why many of them became disconnected from their communities. However, we can help them revive their cultural heritage, including their endangered Aramaic mother tongue that is well-known as the language of Jesus. The best example comes from Israel where reborn Arabized Christians from the Maronite, Syriac Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches rediscovered their roots and worked together to obtain recognition from the government in 2014, allowing them to change the misnomer of “Arab Christians” on their ID Cards to “Aramean Christians.”
- CHRISTIAN LOBBY
Fourth, as Christians, we must focus on a strongly organized Christian lobby, both nationally and globally. Remember that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and that its presidents and members of Congress for the most part have been Christians. Isn’t it odd, then, that our existential question is not dominating the agendas of America and the international community? The Trump administration offers us new and interesting opportunities in this respect, which we must not leave unexplored.
- VISION FROM WHITE HOUSE
Fifth, you can help us reach and convince the White House to develop an appealing vision and issue a memorandum on how to help Christianity survive and thrive in its homeland, and take this existential question into consideration in U.S. foreign policy the coming years and decades. The Middle Eastern Christians have much to offer. We just have to begin brainstorming about how they can become reliable partners of America in securing its interests and vision for a secure, democratic, secular and plural region where, one day in the new future, law and order also must prevail.
- INCREASE AWARENESS EVENTS IN D.C.
Sixth, together we must repeat as many awareness events as possible in Washington, such as this top-level conference in order to instill a sense of understanding, compassion and urgency in state officials with respect to the long-ignored existential question of Christian persecution in general and in the Middle East in particular.
- AUTONOMOUS PROVINCE
Seventh, their calls for a safe haven and autonomous province in the Nineveh Plain in North Iraq have been recognized by House Concurrent Resolution 152 and we must capitalize on this. We can empower Arameans to defend themselves and secure their future at home. Perhaps this might attract many hundreds of thousands of Arameans who left their homeland and who are still reluctant to go back home any time soon.
These seven steps could be kicked off in Washington by the U.S. government with an International Consultation on Ensuring the Christian Presence in the Middle East; like the one I recently attended in Budapest and that was organized by the Hungarian government. To speak in trumpian terms, imagine the huge, I mean huge hope-giving signals to persecuted Christians, if President Trump himself would address and engage the civic and religious leaders of the Middle Eastern Christians, who should be requested to propose a Vision 2030 and 2050, and if he would also invite world leaders to participate in such a high-level conference.
As an Aramean Christian from the Middle East who is in contact with our IDPs, refugees and people in the diaspora, I can assure you that the realization of these pragmatic steps will help regain their trust and renew their hopes and prospects for a future at home.
The next ten years will be crucial: they will either mark the end or the revival of Christianity in its birthplace. Let’s write history together by acting now. Thank you.
World Council of Arameans (Syriacs)