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ABC Documentary: The Rescue of Iraqi Christians

The ABC 20/20 documentary graphically portrayed how these Iraqi Christians threatened with genocide fled from their millennia old community of Qaragosh, Iraq, after a mortar attack by ISIS.  The Christian community they fled was one of the oldest in the Middle East and was violently desecrated by ISIS.  They were told by rampaging ISIS jihadis they had three choices; to flee, remain as virtual slaves or be killed. They were among the more than 170,000 internally displaced Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan threatened by barbaric apocalyptic ISIS less than 30 miles away.

The Qaragosh Christian community fled and became locked in a virtually immoveable massive traffic jam. They abandoned their vehicles fled on foot to Erbil. There they found  sanctuary in the courtyard of Mar Elia Chaldean Catholic Church presided over by resourceful Father Douglas Bazi.  At first housed in tents, the 560 refugees were subsequently housed in caravans, with space heaters, limited sanitary facilities and communal kitchens.  They were Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who dared not enter UN High Commission for Refugees reception centers in Kurdistan, that already house 1.8 million largely Muslim refugees, for fear of retaliation. They lived in fear of any future as they lack residency.


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Iraqi Christian Grandfather Nissan and his grandchildren Mar Elia Church Compound, Erbil, Kurdistan December 14, 2015. Source: ABC 20/20.

That is when a remarkable alliance came to their aid. The ABC 20/20 documentary, narrated by Elizabeth Vargas, outlined who were prime actors:

Glenn Beck‘s charity, Mercury One’s Nazarene Fund, raised more than $12 million for the evacuation and resettlement efforts of the refugees. Contracted by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, former U.S. counter-terrorism officers Joseph and Michele Assad have spent the past four months forging a close partnership with Father Douglas Bazi at Mar Elia. The Assads were managing the risky plan of getting the refugees out of Iraq and finding a country that would grant them asylum so they can start their lives over.

Slovakia, a predominantly Catholic country, agreed to open its doors to at least 25 Iraqi Christian refugee families — 149 people in total — on the condition that no terrorists would pass through the Assads’ security check.

The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom in a press release about the ABC 20/20 documentary provided the time line and key actors involved in this dramatic rescue:

In summer 2015, Hudson Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea initiated a project  to resettle Iraq’s most vulnerable minorities in countries where they would have residency rights (denied them in Kurdistan), practice their religion freely, and be safe. On August 17, Chaldean Catholic priest Douglas Bazi, who operates the Mar Elia camp, met with Shea at her office and asked her help to resettle his refugees out of the region. Shea immediately agreed.

With the encouragement and support of Hollywood producer Mark Burnett, Hudson brought on as an advisor evangelical leader and author Johnnie Moore and contracted security expert Joseph Assad. For three months, the team carried out extensive research, vetting, planning, logistical support, advocacy and preparatory travel under this project.

During this period, Shea met with the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Younan, several other Iraqi bishops, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vice President of Slovakia, and diplomats, legislators and officials from dozens of countries in North and South America, Western and Central Europe, Australia, Armenia, and Kurdistan, as well as those of the United States.

It was the small Central European country of Slovakia that finally agreed to accept the Iraqi Christians, after being urged to do so by a key Vatican official who is Slovakian. On December 10, the Hudson team took these Iraqi Christian refugees to Slovakia in a plane chartered by Mercury One, the charity of media personality Glenn Beck, supported with [$12 Million in] funds donated by thousands of American citizens.

“While the world is focused on Syrian refugees, we never forget that tens of thousands of vulnerable Iraqi Christians who’ve escaped ISIS remain stranded in camps in Kurdistan and throughout the region with dim prospects of ever returning home,” said Nina Shea. “We hope our efforts will prompt other countries – especially the United States – to take them in.”

Slovakia is the first country to accept a large group of displaced “IDP” Iraqi Christians who survived ISIS and are displaced inside Iraq. Four days after Slovakia opened its doors, on December 14, and after closely observing the Center’s project, the neighboring Czech Republic announced it too would admit Iraqi Christian IDPs, beginning in January, 2016.

The United States does not accept Iraqi Christian IDPs for resettlement. Last summer, the State Department had even withheld two-week tourist visas from some of the same Christian children evacuated through the Center project last week; they had been awarded scholarships by a New Hampshire sports camp.

We have written about the plight of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in Kurdistan and Syria and the refusal by our State Department to admit them under the Refugee Resettlement Program. We have published articles and conducted interviews about the genocidal threat towards Iraqi Christian with Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad and Joseph T. Kassab of the Iraqi Christian Advocacy and Empowerment Institute (ICAEI) in both the New English Review and interviewed them on The Lisa Benson Show.  The Lisa Benson Show has established the Queen Esther Project to assist in funding efforts for the rescue of Yazidis, Christians and other non-Muslim religious minorities faced with extinction by ISIS.

One of the suggestions made by Kassab of the ICAEI, is an emergency airlift akin to that used to evacuate 130,000 Vietnamese in the closing days of the Vietnam War.  That was the first wave of Vietnamese refugees that ultimately numbered over 1.2 million. Our State Department had the temerity to suggest that these threatened Christians were excluded when they are covered by one of the priorities in our Refugee Admissions Program, fear of religious persecution.  Moreover, as Shea of the Hudson Institute has written, Christians were apparently excluded from a proposed State Departmernt genocide ruling that only covered Yazidis.

Those Vietnamese refugees were brought to Gulf Coast and created a vibrant community engaged in shrimping and other economic enterprises.  There is a large Vietnamese Catholic Church, Our Lady of Martyrs, in our community.  Instead of admitting these threatened Christians, the Administration is granting admissions to Syrian and other Muslim refugees, despite concerns about possible ISIS terrorist infiltrators among them.  Iraqi and Syrian Christians would be easily vetted and would likely be admitted under Family Reunification Visa Programs. The question is will Americans who took time out from holiday preparation to watch the ABC 20/20 documentary  be aroused to contact the White House and Congressional Representatives to open this country to admit Iraqi Christians as productive citizens, as they did Vietnamese four decades ago.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

U.S. State Department Genocide Victim Ruling Excludes Middle East Christians

Nina Shea of the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedman is the most outspoken critic of Administration policies towards Middle Eastern Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities.  The latest episode concerns a proposed ruling by the State Department of minorities threatened by extinction by the Islamic State, as a predicate for possible rescue, asylum determinations and assistance. Incredibly this ruling excludes, those Christians in Syria and Iraq, who are threatened with extinction by ISIS barbarity.. Shea writes about this in a National Review On-line article, “ISIS Genocide Victims Do Not Include Christians, the State Department Is Poised to Rule.

The State Department official poised to issue the ruling is none other than Anne Patterson, former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, and now Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Near East Affairs. Patterson was a controversial figure and supporter of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader.

Shea cites an investigative  report by Michael Isikoff about the callous rationale behind why Patterson chose to Include Yazidis, but exclude Syriac and, especially Chaldean Christians:

Yazidis, according to the story by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, are going to be officially recognized as genocide victims, and rightly so. Yet Christians, who are also among the most vulnerable religious minority groups that have been deliberately and mercilessly targeted for eradication by ISIS, are not. This is not an academic matter. A genocide designation would have significant policy implications for American efforts to restore property and lands taken from the minority groups and for offers of aid, asylum, and other protections to such victims. Worse, it would mean that, under the Genocide Convention, the United States and other governments would not be bound to act to suppress or even prevent the genocide of these Christians.

The rationale for Patterson ruling:

An unnamed State Department official was quoted by Isikoff as saying that only the attacks on Yazidis have made “the high bar” of the genocide standard and as pointing to the mass killing of 1,000 Yazidi men and the enslavement of thousands of Yazidi women and girls. To propose that Christians have been simply driven off their land but not suffered similar fates is deeply misinformed. In fact, the last Christians to pray in the language spoken by Jesus are also being deliberately targeted for extinction through equally brutal measures. Christians have been executed by the thousands. Christian women and girls are vulnerable to sexual enslavement. Many of their clergy have been assassinated and their churches and ancient monasteries demolished or desecrated. They have been systematically stripped of all their wealth, and those too elderly or sick to flee ISIS-controlled territory have been forcibly converted to Islam or killed, such as an 80-year-old woman who was burned to death for refusing to abide by ISIS religious rules.

Shea notes the clear evidence of ISIS atrocities against  Christian communities in Syria and Iraq;

ISIS atrocities against Christians became public in June 2014 when the jihadists stamped Christian homes in Mosul with the red letter N for “Nazarene” and began enforcing its “convert or die” policy. The atrocities continue. Recently the Melkite Catholic bishop of Aleppo reported that 1,000 Christians, including two Orthodox bishops, have been kidnapped and murdered in his city alone. In September, ISIS executed, on videotape, three Assyrian Christian men and threatened to do the same to 200 more being held captive by the terrorist group. Recent reports by an American Christian aid group state that several Christians who refused to renounce their faith were raped, beheaded, or crucified a few months ago.

Christian women and girls are also enslaved and sexually abused. Three Christian females sold in ISIS slave markets were profiled in a New York Times Magazine report last summer. ISIS rules allow Christian sabaya, that is, their sexual enslavement. Its magazine Dabiq explicitly approved the enslavement of Christian girls in Nigeria, and the jihadist group posted prices for Christian, as well as Yazidi, female slaves in Raqqa.

The Congressional response to the State Department exclusion of Christians-  H.R. 75:

In recent weeks, the stalwart Knights of Columbus have been placing emotionally searing ads in Politico and elsewhere advocating the passage of H.R. 75.

This bipartisan bill was initiated by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.) to declare that genocide is being faced by Christians, Yazidis, and other vulnerable groups. The ads — depicting a mother and child, who appear as the very personifications of grief, against a landscape of ISIS destruction — might strike a nerve within the Obama administration. But as of now, the administration looks poised to preempt the bill and render a grave injustice to the suffering Christians of Iraq and Syria.

One who knows how dangerous this misbegotten ruling by Patterson is Joseph Kassab, President of the Iraqi Christian Advocacy and Empowerment Institution. (See out interview with Kassab in the November, NER: Iraqi Christians Face Extinction.  Note this exchange with Kassab:

Gordon:  How threatening is the ISIS genocide towards Assyrian–Chaldean Christian communities in both Iraq and Syria?

Kassab:  ISIS brutalities and atrocities committed against innocent Christians and Yazidis in Iraq is a very serious issue that needs to be immediately confronted by the international community. These evil acts of ISIS are leading to serious cultural and human genocide. ISIS’ acts of brutality are intentional to gain the attention of the world and the global media is falling for it. Our suggestion is not to fall for it as it is better to look into their evil Islamic ideology and expose it to the world.

Kassab voiced  prescient concern about the fate of his Chaldean Christian  co-religionists following the fall of Mosul to ISIS in June 2014. Watch this  You Tube Overview video interview by Raymond Arroyo with Kassab. Note Kassab’s prediction of the fate that may already  have be fallen Iraqi Christians, extinction;  if assistance is not speedily  forthcoming from the Administration.

Over a year has passed since Iraqi Christians fled from Mosul and the Biblical Nineveh plains. They languish ill-housed as urban refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. They are without prospects for sanctuary in the West and Diaspora, because they allegedly do not qualify for asylum status under UN definitions applied by the State Department Bureau of population, Migration and Refugees.  Now, Assistant Secretary Patterson is poised to deprive Syrian and Iraqi Christians of sanctuary here in the US. Despite, as Kassab has demonstrated they have been vetted and accredited for possible P2/P3 Family reunification Visas.

The mean-spiritedness of Patterson and the State Department may assign these ancient Christian minorities to possible extinction with this proposed Genocide ruling. Their behavior is appalling and beyond contempt. All Americans should be outraged. They should press for passage of H.R. 75 by the House effectively rebuking this incredulous State Department proposed ruling.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of the two blindfolded men, shaved by Islamic militants, who were crucified for their belief in Christianity.

Syrian Kurdish Fighters, not Obama, Rescue Yazidis Stranded on Sinjar Mountain

President Obama may be dismissive of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist army, calling them flippantly in a New Yorker interview the equivalent a “JV team putting Lakers uniforms which doesn’t make them the equivalent of Kobe Bryant”. Anything for this President President to avoid calling  IS, what it is, a powerful international  force of barbarous  Salafist Jihadis. A veritable terrorist Army who now control a Caliphate covering a broad swatch of Syria and northern Iraq equipped with hundreds of millions of US and Russian arms captured from fleeing Assad and Iraqi soldiers. All financed with billions in loot and war booty from their blitz-like rampage. IS is currently engaged in ethnic cleansing of  Nineveh province.

It is conducting a patent Islamic genocide campaign dispossessing and ousting Christians and  Kurdish speaking Yazidis. Yazidis whose ancient Mesopotamian faith preceded Islam.  

Hundreds of thousands have fled into the sanctuary of  Iraqi Kurdistan.  The Kurdish regional Government (KRG) defended by tough peshmerga forces equipped with ancient Russian weapons from the regime of the late Saddam Hussein. As a result of the IS rampage, a combined humanitarian and military crisis occurred in August 2nd with the fall of Sinjar, Iraq and the flight of  tens of thousands of Yazidis. The rapid advance of IS in both Syria and Iraq was evident to most observers; the exception being the National Security Staff in the West Wing of the White House. They were deflected by the turmoil of establishing a new government in Baghdad, opposed by Shiite autocrat and PM,  Nouri al-Maliki who had deprived the Kurdish regional Government of their fair shares in oil revenues and modern US  supplied arms and weapons.  In June the President sent in 300 military coordinators and planners, since ramped up to an estimated 800 contingent.  US diplomats in the ‘green zone’ in Baghdad and some in Erbil have been flow out to Jordan.

The blame game between the U.S. broke out with sudden capture  by IS of Iraq’s second largest city Mosul in mid-June threatening the Iraqi Kurdistan and Peshmerga force. The flimsy excuse offered by President Obama for ordering the limited air assault against advancing IS forces was the threat to US several hundred military coordinators and diplomats in Erbil, the KRG capital.  Add to that  the humanitarian crisis caused by the flight of more than 45,000 Yazidis to Sinjar Mountain cut off from possible sanctuary in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Watch this WSJ report with Intelligence Journalist Siobhan Gorman on why the US Intelligence community underestimated the sudden rise of IS:

 The Presidential order of August 7th initiating limited air strikes against IS forces only dented their progress  after capturing  the  strategic Mosul Dam astride the Tigris River. The IS blitzkrieg  came within 30 miles of Erbil, the modern capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan.  Humanitarian air drops of water and food by both the US and U.K. to the cowering Yazidi tens of thousands of refugees on the arid 3,000 foot mountain, only provided a brief respite. IS forces seized hundreds of Yazidi women as sex slaves or buried them alive  as  they are considered infidel polytheists and alleged ‘devil worshippers”  under Islamist doctrine.  Iraqi Peshmerga fighters were engaged in pushback of IS forces and recapture of towns along their long frontier with the terrorist Caliphate forces.  It was left to Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga in adjacent Rojava- their homeland – to come to the rescue of the Yazidis.  By August 7th, the same day the President announced  the limited air operations and humanitarian air drops Sinjar Mountain, the Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga successfully opened a secure path for Yazidis to come down off the mountain and enter the adjacent area of Syria to safety an  eventual re-entry into  adjacent KRG.

An AP report, “Syrian Kurdish Fighters Rescuing Stranded Yazidis”, reveals the successful humanitarian corridor created by these Rojava  Kurdish Peshmerga fighters without US and UN assistance.  Note these excerpts:

While the U.S. and Iraqi militaries struggle to aid the starving members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority with supply drops from the air, the Syrian Kurds took it on themselves to rescue them. The move underlined how they — like Iraqi Kurds — are using the region’s conflicts to establish their own rule.

For the past few days, fighters have been rescuing Yazidis from the mountain, transporting them into Syrian territory to give them first aid, food and water, and returning some to Iraq via a pontoon bridge.

The desperate condition of these stranded Yazidis was described:

“The (Kurdish fighters) opened a path for us. If they had not, we would still be stranded on the mountain,” said Ismail Rashu, 22, in the Newroz camp in the Syrian Kurdish town of Malikiya some 20 miles from the Iraqi border. Families had filled the battered, dusty tents here and new arrivals sat in the shade of rocks, sleeping on blue plastic sheets. Camp officials estimated that at least 2,000 families sought shelter there on Sunday evening.

Nearby, an exhausted woman rocked a baby to sleep. Another sobbed that she abandoned her elderly uncle in their village of Zouraba; he was too weak to walk, too heavy to carry.

Many said they hadn’t eaten for days on the mountain; their lips were cracked from dehydration and heat, their feet swollen and blackened from walking. Some elderly, disabled and young children were left behind. Others were still walking to where Syrian Kurds were rescuing them, they said.

We are thankful, from our heads to the sky, to the last day on earth,” said Naji Hassan, a Yazidi at the Tigris river border crossing, where thousands of rescued Yazidis were heading back into Iraq on Sunday.

The U.N. estimated around 50,000 Yazidis fled to the mountain. But by Sunday, Kurdish officials said at least 45,000 had crossed through the safe passage, leaving thousands more behind and suggesting the number of stranded was higher.

The Syrian Peshmerga swung into action:

Syrian Kurdish officials said soon after Yazidis fled their villages, they began fighting to create a safe passage. They clashed with Islamic State fighters upon entering Iraq, losing at least 9 fighters, but by Aug. 7 had secured a safe valley passage, cramming Yazidis into jeeps, trucks and cars to bring them some 25 miles away. Some of the ill were even rushed to hospital.

“We answered their cries for help. They were in danger and we opened a safe passage for them into safety,” said military official Omar Ali. “We saw that we had to help them and protect them; they are Kurds and part of our nation.”

The AP report noted that autonomy that Syrian Kurds established in Syria that allowed them to undertake this rescue of the Yazidis after the KRG Peshmerga retreated:

In saving Yazidis, Syrian Kurds were also demonstrating their own ambitions for independence as Syria’s civil war rages on.

They announced their autonomous area of Rojava in January, and rule several far northeastern Kurdish areas of Syria. Government forces stationed in the area were redeployed over two years ago to battle rebels seeking Assad’s overthrow, Syrian Kurdish officials said.

But in entering Iraq, the Syrian fighters are also challenging their Iraqi Kurdish rivals. They say they entered after the Iraqi Kurdish fighting force, called the peshmerga, fled Yazidi villages after short battles with Islamic militants. The peshmerga say they were outgunned by the militants.

The gratitude of the Yazidis for the action of the Syrian Kurdish fighters:

For now, with the peshmerga gone and state aid ineffective, the Yazidis who survived the mountaintop ordeal were counting on the Syrian Kurdish fighters. Covered in dust among crowds at the Tigris crossing, Hassan said without the fighters all would have been lost.

“Were it not for them, no Yazidi would be saved,” he said.

If the West is serious about blunting, if not rolling back the IS Jihad blitzkrieg, it must rapidly equip and train both Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish peshmerga with basic small arms, mortars and grenades, as well advanced weapons.  The irony is that desperately needed  weaponry would be used to destroy US weapons and munitions abandoned by regular Syrian and  Iraqi Shiite forces that were slaughtered or fled in panic acquired during the IS rampage.  There is an immediate source that could be drawn immediately less than 601 miles away from Kurdistan, the U.S. War Reserve stockpile in Israel. All it takes is for President Obama to authorize the Pentagon to make those draw downs and undertake  emergency airlifts to  equip and train those tough  Peshmerga fighters on the frontlines in both Syria and Iraq.

What did Sir Winston Churchill say about U.S. lend lease efforts prior to our entry into WWII in a radio broadcast on February 9, 1941:  “Give us the tools to finish the Job”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the New English Review. The featured image is of a Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga fighter in Derika, Syria’s Refugee Camp. August 10, 2014 Source: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed.