Fighting A War From Washington

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Being the executive director of an organization that deals with Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac issues poses a VERY unique set of challenges. On top of managing legislative items throughout the course of a Congressional session, I often find myself on both ends of the blame game and rumor mill within our community. It seems like anytime we put forward or pass a specific piece of legislation, one political party claims we are pursuing a certain agenda, while their opposing party insists we’re simply puppets of the opposition. In American politics, this would be the equivalent of a politician being accused of being a conservative by progressives, while progressives blast them for being puppets for the conservative agenda. Make sense, right? Of course not, but sense and rumors have nothing to do with each other, and people ultimately believe whatever they want anyway, especially if it reinforces their existing opinions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time in politics (and as an Assyrian) is that something need not be true for people to believe it.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it is a lot of headache for a job I never actually wanted.

Aside from the support that we try to secure for our people back home, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is helping young activists understand and appreciate their role in government.  Politics is messy, esoteric, and often a labyrinth of arcane procedures and social codes, so when most people step foot off the plane in Washington they are often overwhelmed by the process. I like to think of myself as an interpreter of sorts for young activists, and one thing I’ve found with everyone who participates in citizen lobbying is that most leave with a very coherent understanding of what we do, how we do it, and why it’s important.  With that in mind, let me tell you about our most recent visitors in Washington:

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Last week A Demand for Action founder Nuri Kino visited Washington, DC for a series of political and diplomatic meetings surrounding the plight of the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people. The meetings took place December 7-11 and were attended by ADFA members Nathan Kalasho of Detroit, and Tabeetha and Helma Adde of New York, who mobilized for a final effort to secure year end legislation and implore President Obama to recognize the ongoing persecution of the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people, as well as Yezidis, Armenians, and other minorities as Genocide.

In addition to the Genocide recognition, ADFA representatives worked with members of Congress to amend H.Con.Res 75 (resolution) to better reflect the unique suffering of the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people, as well as highlight the specific targeting of Christians by Da’esh (ISIS). We also reported of abuse of Christians in refugee camps to the White House, State Department, and member of Congress to underscore the need for aid to be provided directly to our organizations such as Assyrian Aid Society, ACERO, HelpIraq, Syriac Patriarchate, International Christian Outreach, and the Hammurabi Foundation. Concrete steps were taken to begin to better assist our community aid organizations in securing support from the US, EU and UN to continue and expand their humanitarian efforts.  All relevant agencies were briefed on the most up to date information from the ground in Syria and Iraq, including updates on attacks in the Hassake region and the status of the hostage situation. Finally, updated information was provided to the White House and State Department on the status of local security forces in the Nineveh Plains and the Hassake region of Syria to continue to develop strategies to include Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac forces into the larger security effort in those areas, as well as to consider indigenous security as part of the ultimate goal of establishing a self administered areas, or Safe Havens, in Iraq and Syria. We reiterated that independent security forces should receive direct support separately from the local and national administrations of the KRG and Government of Iraq, as both those security forces, the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga, abandoned the Nineveh Plains and Mosul and thus lost the trust of the indigenous populations of those areas.

Meetings included visits to the White House, State Department, Armenian National Committee of America, and the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia where Nuri Kino was received by His Excellency Tigran Sargsyan.  Congressional efforts included meetings with Congressman Dave Trott of Michian, Congressman Jeff Denham of California, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Congressman Brad Sherman of California, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, and Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois.  Mr. Kino’s Washington visit was covered by national and international news outlets such as Swedish National Radio, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Daily News, and EWTN News.

We are grateful US members of Congress and other US policymakers for their efforts on behalf of our people, but not enough has been done to stem the tide of suffering, and we will continue to engage the Obama administration and our friends in Congress to further strengthen efforts to bring an end to the suffering which has claimed so many innocent lives.

As Americans we have the God given right to petition our government, something unheard of in the countries from which our parents fled. While speaking out against the violence which has befallen our people is our right as Americans, it is our duty as Assyrians, and I urge everyone to not be discouraged by the seemingly endless bad news coming from the homeland.  On the contrary, it should motivate us to work even harder and raise our voices even louder, and as those who visit us in Washington can attest, your voices are being heard.

So use your voice, petition your government, and demand action.

 

Steven Oshana

Executive Director