Photo Credit: Aid to the Church in Need
Displaced Christians in cramped living conditions in Erbil, the largest city in Iraqi Kurdistan.

While Christians in Iraq and Syria face the threat of extinction at the hands of the Islamic State terror group, the State Department remains silent on the prospect of publicly designating the atrocities against Christians and other Mideast religious minorities as “genocide.”

According to a recent investigative piece by journalist Michael Isikoff for Yahoo! News, the State Department is in the midst of internal discussions to officially recognize the Yazidi people as genocide victims. But a lingering question remains: Will other religious minorities be included in the Obama administration’s designation?

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“Scholars and experts are in consensus regarding the term ‘genocide’ being applied to both Christians and Yazidis alike…. We need to ensure that all groups being persecuted by Islamic extremism are being treated equally under Article 2 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” Mark Arabo, an American spokesman for the Middle East’s Chaldean Catholic community and a human rights activist, told JNS.

In particular, human rights activists argue that Christians and other religious minorities should be included in a genocide designation due to the ongoing systematic murder, rape, enslavement, forced conversion, and displacement of their communities in Iraq and Syria.

Villages that have had a Christian presence for centuries have virtually become ghost towns as a majority of Mideast. Christians have been forced to flee, convert, or be murdered. Even Christian families who chose the option of paying the jizya – an Islamic tax on non-Muslims – had to hand their wives over to the Islamic State terrorists.

Charles Hayes, an expert on religious freedom and vice president of the Newseum Institute in Washington, DC, told JNS that the designation of genocide for Christians is “long overdue.”

“If the State Department issues a genocide designation for Yazidis, that would be a step forward, but it is not enough. Invoking genocide is a serious action and should only be done when conditions are most dire. That’s where we are now in Iraq and Syria. It is time to call what is happening to Yazidis, Christians, and others what it is: genocide.”

David Brog, a board member of Christians United for Israel, called the persecution of Mideast Christians “the great human rights tragedy of our time.”

“This administration,” he said, “has a disturbing record of downplaying and even ignoring this tragedy. This is just one more sign that the administration is deaf to the cries of our Christian brethren.”

The State Department’s reluctance to label Islamic State atrocities against Mideast Christians as genocide is evident in the department’s own statements. A State Department source told JNS – without specifically mentioning Christians –that alongside the atrocities against the Yazidi people, Islamic State has victimized a “wide range” of communities in Iraq and Syria, but that the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad regime is the actor most responsible for the mass murders of civilians in the region.

Obama administration officials told Yahoo! News that Islamic State attacks against Christians and other Middle East religious minorities may not warrant the genocide label because Islamic State may not have the intention to actually eradicate those minority populations.

Asked specifically whether Christians and other religious minorities will be included in the genocide designation, a State Department official said, “At this time we ourselves have not made a formal finding of genocide. We are not going to comment on internal discussions.”

An administration official further told JNS, “Our policy and objective is to degrade and defeat ISIS [Islamic State] and hold perpetrators accountable. The protection of members of groups under attack and the provision of humanitarian assistance to members of displaced groups are vitally important and will continue to be a key priority for the U.S. government.

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