STATEMENT ON DESTRUCTION OF RELIGIOUS SITES
ARCHON COMMANDER ANTHONY J. LIMBERAKIS
3rd Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom
The Persecution of Christians In The Holy Lands & Middle East Consequences and Solutions
Session Four: Destruction of Sacred Sites
(December 6, 2017 – 2:30 – 4:30 pm)
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Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Exarch of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Your Eminences and Excellencies,
Dr. Prodromou, our esteemed moderator
Distinguished Members of the Panel,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My opening remarks will be brief, as I am anxious to hear from the notable members of our panel – and if you will allow me a moment of personal privilege, especially from a man who understands this issue as well as anyone alive today. Rabbi Arthur Schneier.
Rabbi Schneier, the 2008 recipient of the Archons’ Athenagoras Human Rights Award, is renown around the world. A Holocaust survivor, he witnessed the razing of his own synagogue as a teenager in Vienna. As a young immigrant to the United States, he founded, over fifty years ago, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation to promote “peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution.” And after the destruction by the Taliban of the “Buddhas of Bamiyam” in Afghanistan – two of the largest statues of Buddha in the world dating from the fourth and fifth centuries – he spearheaded the United Nations resolution that calls upon all Nations of the world to – and I quote –
“… exert their utmost efforts to ensure that religious sites are fully respected and protected in conformity with international standards and in accordance with their national legislation….”
As we commence our dialogue today, I leave you with this thought. Unless we commit to protection of all religious sites – whatever their religious or faith origin – we cannot protect any. From the Sufi tombs in Timbuktu destroyed by Isis, to the Armenian cemetery in Julfa, Azerbaijan decimated by the government itself. From the desecration in the Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in my hometown of Philadelphia, to the seized Aghia Sophia Churches of ancient Nicea and Trapezund in Turkey, we must be concerned for all sites and all religions.
As Christians, we want to protect our own, but we must also show the world, and the overwhelming majority of peace-loving people of faith – whatever faith that may be – that we are as concerned about their spiritual centers as we are about our own.
At this time I invite our moderator Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou to lead this our 4th and final Panel Discussion entitled Destruction of Sacred Sites. Dr. Prodromou is a leading academic authority on religion and geopolitics, and is a well-known expert on Orthodox Christianity and Islam. She holds a PhD from MIT and during her exceptional diplomatic service as Vice Chair of the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2004 to 2012 she exposed the religious freedom violations of Turkey resulting in naming the Republic of Turkey to a Country of Particular Concern or Watch List Country, on USCIRF’s annual listing of the world’s worst religious freedom violators, a distinction that Turkey continues to shamelessly earn to this very day.
 Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 55/254. Protection of Religious Sites, 101st Plenary Meeting, 31 May 2001