By Eric Czarnik
Chaldean Community Foundation Program Manager Sharon Hannawa and receptionist Bushra Karana work in the foundation’s lobby last fall in Sterling Heights. (File photo by Deb Jacques)
The Chaldean Community Foundation welcomed recent actions by U.S. officials that described the Islamic State group’s acts against Christians as genocide. (File photo by Deb Jacques)
A local Chaldean community group is reacting to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recently announced assertion that the Islamic State group committed genocide against Christians and other minority groups in the Middle East.
Kerry declared on March 17 that the Islamic State — also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh — committed genocide when it targeted and slaughtered Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslim groups in Iraq, Syria and beyond over the past couple of years.
Kerry said the conflict and the situation on the ground prevent the U.S. from making a complete and comprehensive investigation, and he said he is “neither judge nor prosecutor nor jury” with respect to the genocide allegations.
But he said the nation has conducted a review of evidence from the government, intelligence and outside groups, and he said the government will support efforts to collect and analyze evidence of atrocities.
“My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that, in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims,” Kerry said.
“Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions in what it says, what it believes and what it does.”
Kerry explained that “Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians, Yazidis because they are Yazidis, Shia because they are Shia.” He also elaborated on the recent violence against Christians in the Middle East.
“We know that in Mosul, Qaraqosh and elsewhere, Daesh has executed Christians solely because of their faith … and that it has also forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery,” he said.
Days earlier, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously, 393-0, for a nonbinding resolution that declares Islamic State massacres as genocide.
Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation in Bingham Farms and Sterling Heights, said Kerry’s announcement “was a step in the right direction.”
“I think this was long overdue given the atrocities that have been committed against our community, the Chaldean community, Christians in general and minorities in the Middle East,” Manna said.
Manna said he hopes that the designation will encourage many actions, such as providing aid and international community protection to the vulnerable so that the genocide can stop. However, he said Kerry’s announcement alone will not lead to concrete change.
“The designation is not going to change U.S. policy, but we’re hopeful that it might alert members of the administration to act quickly,” he said. “Clearly people have now recognized that a genocide has taken place and is taking place, and the world cannot sit silent as it continues.”
According to Manna, around 1.4 million Chaldeans lived in Iraq in 2003, but today fewer than 200,000 remain. Where 340 churches once stood in Iraq, only around 40 exist today, he said.
Although Manna said the decline began in 2003, the violence escalated when the Islamic State began taking over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 that were the historic homes of the Chaldeans, a Christian people that historically spoke Aramaic. Many Christians were killed or forced to leave their homes, Manna said.
Last fall, the Chaldean Community Foundation moved to a larger building in Sterling Heights so it could accommodate more people and services.
Manna said the CCF helps about 20,000 people annually, and many of them are newly arrived refugees. He said the foundation specifically gives aid to refugees after they stop getting federal aid and short-term assistance from agencies like Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan and Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.
Manna said the CCF has also worked with a group called In Defense of Christians, which has lobbied for a genocide declaration from the government.
“There has been a lot of advocacy from our community, and several organizations are involved,” Manna said.
In an email, Kyle Bonini, communications director for U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-Michigan, said Trott has been raising awareness about the genocide being committed against Middle Eastern Christians, including those with local communities in Michigan.
Trott has also helped arrange meetings between community leaders and Knox Thames, the State Department’s special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia.
“Chaldeans, Copts, Assyrians, and (Yazidis) are being targeted by the Islamic State for their religious beliefs and they need America to speak in one voice to denounce these crimes,” Trott said in a press release.
Manna also said that once a genocide designation is made, refugees being targeted for genocide should be given first priority to safety and international humanitarian aid.
When asked about his thoughts about the proportion of Chaldeans and Christians being accepted into the U.S., Manna said he has talked about that issue with Trott and Thames.
“We discussed the refugees, and there has been a significant decrease in the number of minorities that have been able to come to the United States,” Manna said.
According to data from the Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, these are the totals of refugees from Syria and Iraq to the U.S. by religion from 2014 through March 24, 2016:
Sunni Muslim, 16,483; Shia Muslim, 11,013; Catholic, 2,977; Christian, 2,017; Orthodox, 1,103; Muslim, 648; Yazidi, 473; Sabean Mandean, 257; Chaldean, 166; Kaka’i, 24; atheist, 19; Protestant, 19; other religion, 16; no religion, 9; Baha’i, 7; evangelical Christian, 6; Zoroastrian, 6; Buddhist, 3; unknown, 3; Baptist, 2; Jehovah’s Witnesses, 2; Jewish, 2; and Greek Orthodox, 1.
Find out more about the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights by visiting www.chaldeanfoundation.org or by calling (586) 722-7253. To read Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System statistics, visit www.wrapsnet.org