Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said members of the Islamic State militant group have committed genocide against Christians and other ancient minority groups in the Middle East, though the classification is unlikely to change U.S. policy.
Christians; Yezidis, a Kurdish-speaking people who live largely in northern Iraq; and Shia Muslims have fallen victim to ISIS or â€œDaeshâ€ persecution since militants began seizing control of Syria and Iraq in 2014, Kerry declared.
â€œThe fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians, Yezidis because they are Yezidis, Shia because they are Shia. This is the message it conveys to children under its control. Its entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology,â€ Kerry said in a press briefing.
While thousands of these families have fled to neighboring European countries, many Iraqi Christians â€” also known as Chaldeans â€” have come to the United States and in particular to El Cajon in East County, which maintains the second largest Iraqi population in the country after Detroit.
Mark Arabo, a Chaldean leader in San Diego who spearheaded efforts for this recognition, expressed gratitude.
â€œItâ€™s taken us two years to get to this moment and weâ€™re so grateful to God that (the State Department) made the right designation,â€ said Arabo, president and founder of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation. â€œNow that weâ€™ve recognized it as genocide, itâ€™s a great step but itâ€™s not enough. We need to save as many lives as possible.â€
Arabo has collected the names of an estimated 70,000 Christians who have been displaced or persecuted by the Islamic State.
He and spokesman Lundon Attisha met in San Diego last week with David Saperstein, the Department of Stateâ€™s ambassador- at-large for international religious freedom.
It was Saperstein who called Arabo Thursday morning to tell him the news, he said.
Saperstein visited religious diaspora communities in the U.S. to collect and evaluate information regarding ISIS atrocities, according to a State Department spokeswoman. The State Department reviewed this information over the course of several months, which in part led to Kerryâ€™s announcement Thursday.
â€œOne element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group, in whole or in part. We know that Daesh has given some of its victims a choice between abandoning their faith or being killed, and that for many is a choice between one kind of death and another,â€ Kerry said.
Itâ€™s unclear if a â€œgenocideâ€ classification will change any federal policies currently in place or how it will further protect victims in the Middle East.
â€œUltimately, the full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through formal legal determination made by a competent court or tribunal,â€ Kerry said.
Kerry pledged to hold ISIS accountable for its crimes and to aid victims, so that theyâ€™re able to survive on their ancestral land.
Arabo said he plans to travel to Washington, D.C., next month to meet with Saperstein and other officials to discuss additional action to stop the genocide.
â€œSan Diego is driving the national narrative on these atrocities and how to stop them,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s critical that we capitalize on this momemtum.â€