By CNS News | February 26, 2016, 6:58 EST
(CNSNews.com) – More than 25,000 people have signed an online petition launched this week by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians asking Secretary of State John Kerry to designate the Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) systematic killing of Christians and members of other religious minority groups in the Middle East as “genocide.”
The two groups are also launching a television advertising campaign calling for such a declaration, Andrew Walther, Knights vice president of media research and development, told CNSNews.com.
Under the omnibus bill signed by President Obama on Dec. 18, 2015, the State Department has 90 days from the date of enactment to determine whether ISIL’s mass murder of Christians and other religious minorities “constitute genocide.” The deadline for the report is March 17.
On Wednesday, Kerry told a House subcommittee that he will “make a decision on it as soon as I have that additional evaluation and we will proceed from there.”
However, there has been some speculation that the State Department will only recognize a genocide of the minority Yazidi population and that Christians will not be included in the designation.
But Walther pointed out that there is “no shortage of evidence and no shortage of people who have come to the conclusion that Christians in the Middle East are victims of genocide.”
In December, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedomurged the State Department to “designate the Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Turkmen and Shabak communities of Iraq and Syria as victims of genocide by ISIL.”
Christians in Iraq and Syria who were forced to flee for their lives refuse to go to the official refugee camps because Muslim “hit squads are targeting them,” Walther told CNSNews.com. “So they don’t get offered refugee status, and without refugee status they don’t get on the list to immigrate to the West.”
Without a genocide declaration, Walther explained, “the people who face the gravest threat are put at the back of the line.”
As of Feb. 16, the U.S. has admitted 602 Muslims and only two Christians from the region, CNSNews.com reported.
The Knights, who have already raised more than $8 million for humanitarian relief in the region, also launched a #40 Bucks for Lent campaign on Twitter so that Christians in the U.S. can “do something really important for people on the edge of existence,” Walther added.
“The Genocide Convention defines genocide as killing and certain other acts ‘committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a Dec. 4, 2015 letter to Kerry signed by many religious, academic and political leaders.
“We have extensive files supporting a finding that ISIS’ treatment of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yazidis and other vulnerable minorities, meets this definition.
“They include evidence of ISIS assassinations of Church leaders; mass murders; torture, kidnapping for ransom in the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria; its sexual enslavement and systematic rape of Christian girls and women; its practices of forcible conversions to Islam; its destruction of churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and Christian artifacts; and its theft of lands and wealth from Christian clergy and laity alike.”
“People don’t realize that 1,000 years ago, there were the same number of Christians in this region as in Europe,” Walther told CNSNews.com. “Now we are seeing centuries of Christian culture eradicated in front of our eyes.”
“In 1916, 500,000 to 600,000 Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians were killed in that region along with the Armenians in what was called ‘The Year of the Sword’,” he continued.
Historians believe that as many as 1.5 million predominantly Christian Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, in what has been described as “the first large-scale genocide of the 20th century.”
President Theodore Roosevelt called “the Armenian massacre the greatest crime of the [First World] war.”
“Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish attorney, invented the term ‘genocide’ to describe superlative crimes. So the slaughter of Middle Eastern Christians gave rise to the definition of genocide,” Walther pointed out.
“Exactly 100 years later, the cycle repeats itself.”
— Written by Barbara Hollingsworth