Washington, DC - In Defense of Christians (IDC), the nation’s leading advocacy organization for Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East and Africa, convened IDC National Summit 2021: Combating Oppression and Empowering the Oppressed on Tuesday, September 21 and Wednesday, September 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. The two-day program included a Solidarity Dinner on Tuesday evening and Capitol Hill Advocacy Day on Wednesday.
The Solidarity Dinner program featured remarks from eleven Members of Congress, including Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Jackie Speier (D-CA), among other civil society leaders.
At the Solidarity Dinner, IDC President Baaklini announced the 2021 Congressional Champions, and announced Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) as the recipient of the 2021 Charles Malik Human Rights Award.
IDC President Baaklini also presented the 2021 Cedar of God Award to Nadine Maenza, Chairperson of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), who delivered the evening’s keynote address.
Several Members of Congress affirmed their support for IDC's mission with remarks at the Solidarity Dinner.
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) stated, "I want to thank In Defense of Christians for your efforts to prioritize supportive human rights and religious liberty in our foreign policy and to advocate for Christians and other members of religious minority communities across the Middle East."
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), Chairman of the House Middle East Subcommittee, stressed the urgency of Lebanon's crisis, emphasizing Hezbollah's detrimental role.
"Lebanon's rapidly deteriorating crises are largely the consequence of the country's political gridlock, pervasive corruption of which Hezbollah is massively guilty, and the insidious effect of Hezbollah is ever-present threat to drag the country of the Civil War or Regional War if it doesn't get its way," he said.
IDC also celebrated its milestone victories from 2020-2021, including: President Biden’s April 2021 recognition of the Armenian Christian Genocide; the White House’s authorization of an additional $62 million in annual defense assistance to the LAF, and nearly $100 million in additional in humanitarian assistance directly to the Lebanese people; the U.S. State Department’s commitment to deliver over $400 million in additional humanitarian assistance directly to Syrian civilians, and nearly $155 million in additional humanitarian assistance for genocide survivors in Iraq.
IDC President Baaklini also underscored IDC’s policy priorities looking ahead into 2022, which include: Continuing to amplify calls by the Maronite Patriarch for Lebanon’s active neutrality and a UN-led international conference on Lebanon’s national crisis; Calling for any future Iran Deal to be conditioned on Iran’s unconditional dismantling of its proxy militias throughout the region; Calling for the appointment of a Special Envoy in Nigeria; Calling for the appointment of a Special Envoy to Promote Freedom for Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia, in accordance with the 2014 “Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act”; Leading the fight against Turkish President Erdogan, and his persecution of Christians in Turkey and internationally; Calling on the U.S. government to increase sanctions on Turkey for its state-sponsored persecution of Christians; Calling on Secretary of State Blinken to discontinue Saudi Arabia’s longstanding sanctions waiver, and designate Saudi Arabia as a Country of Particular Concern for its religious freedom violations, and apply appropriate sanctions; And actively advocating for a series of legislative measures: S.1637 and H.Res.558 to cut off Hezbollah’s financial networks and erode Hezbollah and Iran’s control in Lebanon, H.Res.117 to urge improved treatment of Copts in Egypt, H.Res.3056 to respect the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey, S.Res.97 and H.Res.445 to end the violence against Christians in Ethiopia, H.Res.143 to recognize the Simele Massacre of 1933, and of course S.Res.80 to establish a Senate Human Rights Commission.
On September 22, IDC Capitol Hill Advocacy Day commenced with a series of expert panel discussions and policy briefings to arm IDC advocates with knowledge for their meetings on Capitol Hill that followed later in the day.
The first panel, Saving Lebanon: The Last Free Bastion of Christianity in the Middle East, focused on the humanitarian, political, economic, and security crises in Lebanon. Panelists included: Bishop Gregory Mansour, Mr. Andrew Doran, Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, Resigned Member of Lebanese Parliament Neemat Frem, and Dr. Habib Malik.
The second panel, Turkey: Ottoman Fantasies and Geostrategic Realities, focused on Turkey’s record of persecuting Christians domestically and internationally, and its role in regional destabilization. Panelists included Dr. Aykan Erdemir, Mr. Aram Hamparian, Dr. Amy Austin Holmes, Dr. Michael Rubin, and Mr. Endy Zemenides.
Following the policy discussion, IDC advocates met with the 60 key congressional offices, including Senator Todd Young (R-IN), and Representatives Maria Salazar (R-FL) and Sherman (D-CA).
“IDC is grateful to its supporters, partners, and committed advocates for making IDC National Summit 2021 a resounding success,” said IDC President Toufic Baaklini.
“We also thank our partners in Congress for their leadership on the critical issues pertaining to preserving Christianity, and the Christian communities, in the Middle East, Africa, and around the globe,” he continued.