Philanthropist Battles to Save Iraq’s Christians

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Amed Khan

By David A. Patten  Amed Khan, an investor and global philanthropist currently engaged in rebuilding communities destroyed by ISIS, says he’ll “believe it when I see it” regarding the Trump administration’s plan to provide aid directly to Iraq’s persecuted religious Christians.

Frustrated by UN delays and red tape, the Trump administration announced in October it would instead send aid directly to Aramaic-speaking Christians through faith-based organizations and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Five days after the administration’s announcement, USAID issued a notice inviting organizations to submit proposals “for building resilience in the Nineveh Plains and Western Nineveh,” areas in Iraq that were decimated by ISIS.

But Khan has doubts the new plan will succeed in getting adequate assistance to those who need it most.

Khan, the head of a New York City-area foundation who spent several years helping refugees in Greece, says despite all the talk of helping displaced Christians in Northern Iraq in and around the cities of Erbil and Mosul, there’s precious little activity on the ground.

“I’m on a mission to get people to do stuff, not just go to dinners and talk about it,” says Khan. “I’ve read 50 articles about why Christians in Iraq should be protected. But when I’m there, we’re all looking around and there’s no one there. How is it possible they have all these articles … but when you’re on the ground, you’re just sitting there and there’s nobody around?”

It was precisely that bureaucratic paralysis Trump’s strategy shift is intended to overcome. But Khan is skeptical rerouting funds to other large organizations will solve the problem. That said, he congratulates the president for publicizing the plight of the region’s persecuted Christians.

“I’m eternally grateful the president is drawing attention to this,” he tells Newsmax. “I just hope they don’t get caught in the bureaucratic mess they create.”

He adds: “I agree the UN has been ineffective, but USAID is pretty ineffective also. I’ll believe it when I see it.”

In part, Khan’s skepticism reflects the scope of the humanitarian disaster left in the wake of the Islamic State.

When ISIS captured Mosul in June 2014, the region’s ancient Christians abandoned their homes and fled for their lives to the Kurdish capital city of Erbil. Under the Trump administration, U.S. Special Operations forces have largely dismantled the ISIS strongholds, but Iraq’s Christians have no homes to return to.

A recent survey of nine of the Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains region identified 12,970 homes either uninhabitable or destroyed — many of them burned to the ground. Because no one could farm or raise livestock while the bullets were flying, the region’s agricultural-based economy has cratered.

One reason Khan believes the aid could be delivered more effectively: He’s done it.

Khan, 47, lives in suburban New York City. He was so dismayed by the dearth of assistance to Christians struggling to survive in what many experts consider the cradle of Christianity, that he visited the Ninevah Plains in June to see for himself how relief efforts were going.

“I found thousands of people who want to move home, but they don’t have any money to pay for their house,” he says. “They went to see their house, and it’s destroyed, so they can’t live there, so they’re going to stay in a tent. I said, ‘That’s crazy.’”

Seeing that international relief efforts were moving way too slowly, he launched a project that has already led to the return of 1,000 Iraqi Christians to their rebuilt homes.

“We work with the local communities,” he said. “They have a reconstruction committee, and they just tell us, ‘Look, this family has this house. They need this much money to rehab the house.’ We just provide the funding, that’s it.

“It shows the power of individuals to do stuff,” he says, “against the background of inaction on the part of larger organizations or governments.”

As you might expect, Khan enjoys the support of several influential benefactors, including billionaire investor Ron Burkle, an owner of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and Swedish-Canadian mining-interest billionaire Lukas Lundin.

He also credits two associates whose help has been invaluable: Nashir Jiwa, whom he describes as a “Muslim friend devastated by what’s going on,” and Sandy Hakim, an Aramaic-speaking Chaldean Catholic who was born and raised in Baghdad. Hakim’s family moved to Detroit during the First Gulf War. Now, she’s using her Aramaic language skills to help coordinate relief efforts.

Khan says he’s not interested in receiving funding from USAID or the Trump administration, but would like to share his model with others.

“My thing is this,” says Khan. “We cannot in our lifetime live through a time when Christianity died in its birthplace. How is anyone living with themselves right now?

“I don’t get it. It’s crazy. It’s beyond belief. There was a 3 million Christian population just 30 or 40 years ago, and now it’s on the verge of extinction.”

He says he hopes he never wants to have to explain to his children or grandchildren how the world stood by as Christianity was stamped out in the place where it first took root.

“How do you let that happen?” he pondered. “I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can solve this situation. But I can go down fighting.’”