In a move many Christian groups are calling a "victory," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday declared that the Islamic State terrorist group is committing genocide against Christians and other ancient minority groups in the Middle East.
"My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that in my judgement, Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS] is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims," Kerry said during a press conference. "Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions - in what it says, what it believes and what it does.
While the label is unlikely to change U.S. policy, Mark Arabo, a Chaldean leader in San Diego who has fought for this recognition since 2014, called the move "a defining moment in American history," as the government will now be morally compelled to stop the genocide committed against Christians in the Middle East.
"This is the second time in the history of the United States that the State Department and Congress have recognized Christian genocide; it's historic by all measures," he told The Gospel Herald during a phone interview on Thursday. "It means that Congress, the President, and the State Department now have a moral obligation to act. It's not enough that they recognized the problem, they need to fix the problem. We hope and pray that the moral conscience of Congress is going to wake up, and God will open up their hearts and minds to the victims of genocide."
Arabo, who is the president of the California-based Minority Humanitarian Foundation, said the recognition also provides hope to those suffering for their beliefs.
"Christians are being massacred because of their faith," he said. "Their churches have been bombed, their houses have been taken away, their clothes have been stripped from them. They're left in the desert in camps, begging for someone to rescue them. They've lost everything they have because of ISIS, but they haven't lost their faith, they haven't lost their hope. Today is a good today for their faith, for all of humanity, and for Christianity at large."
Over the past months, Arabo has collected the names of an estimated 70,000 Christian refugees - the "Victims of ISIS" list - who have been displaced or persecuted by the Islamic State. In April, he will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with David Saperstein, Department of State's ambassador for international religious freedom, and other officials to push for legislation to stop the genocide.
"We have a comprehensive legislation we're going to present and ask Congress to pass immediately," Arabo said. "We're going to keep pushing. It's not the end, it's the beginning of a new chapter. It's not enough that we recognize genocide; we need to act to save lives. The United States needs to lead the way along with Australia, the EU, and Canada to say, 'Let's give a home, let's give an opportunity, let's give hope to these refugees.' We're going to be holding Congress accountable, and we're hoping that the President and the State Department acts on this designation."
When asked why it took so long for the U.S. government to recognize Christians as victims of genocide, Arabo didn't hesitate to point to Washington's broken political system: "Our politicians...in general, don't have a moral compass," he said. "We're very thankful for President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and ambassador David Saperstein, because this time, they got it right. We know that this is genocide, because Christians are being massacred, mutilated, beheaded, raped, and crucified because of their faith."
He also expressed hope that this historic occasion does not become a "political moment," but rather a humanitarian one: "Even something like genocide can become a political moment when people are driven not by humanity but by their own selfish interest," he said. "We hope this is a healing moment for our world."
Arabo encouraged believers in the United States to not only pray for those suffering in the Middle East, but to contact members of Congress and help push for the enactment of legislation protecting Christians persecuted or their faith.
"When the American people's hearts comes together, God is listening, and is he aware of our prayers," he said. "Miracles do happen. Today, by all measures, it was a miracle that the U.S. government was able to come together and recognize that Christian genocide is occurring. It is living proof that prayers to God do go answered."
He added, "This is a defining moment for American history, where the government has recognized that nobody should be killed for the faith they believe in. Our foundation today is more energized than ever before; this has given us the momentum we need to save more lives."