Turkey Christian churches accountability act scheduled for Committee Vote

Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) announced that a hearing and vote on H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, has been scheduled for Wednesday, June 18th, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly). Earlier this week, Reps. Jim Costa (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) cosponsored H.R. 4347, adding momentum for the House to act on this important international religious freedom legislation.

A similar “sense of the House resolution,” H. Res. 306, was adopted by the full House of Representatives on December 13, 2011. This new measure, however, goes further than the one adopted in 2011, as it “require[s] the Secretary of State to provide an annual report to Congress regarding United States Government efforts to survey and secure the return, protection, and restoration of stolen, confiscated, or otherwise unreturned Christian properties in the Republic of Turkey and in those areas currently occupied by the Turkish military in northern Cyprus.”

Earlier this year, the Armenian National Institute (ANI), Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA) and the Assembly jointly, and in cooperation with the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan, and the Republic of Armenia National Archives, announced the release of a major exhibit consisting of 20 panels with over 150 historic photographs documenting the role of the Armenian Church during the Armenian Genocide.

Titled ‘The First Refuge and the Last Defense: The Armenian Church, Etchmiadzin, and The Armenian Genocide,’ the exhibit explains the importance of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin during the Armenian Genocide. It also examines the vital leadership role played by the clergy during the Armenian Genocide, especially the intervention of His Holiness Catholicos Gevorg V Sureniants in alerting world leaders about the massacres, effectively issuing the first ‘early warning’ of an impending genocide.

As part of its many findings, H.R. 4347 states that “Christian churches and communities in the Republic of Turkey and in the occupied areas of Cyprus continue to be prevented from fully practicing their faith and face serious obstacles to reestablishing full legal, administrative, and operational control over stolen, expropriated, confiscated, or otherwise unreturned churches and other religious properties and sites. In many cases the rightful Christian church authorities, including relevant Holy Sees located outside Turkey and Turkish-occupied territories, are obstructed from safeguarding, repairing, or otherwise caring for their holy sites upon their ancient homelands, because the properties have been destroyed, expropriated, converted into mosques, storage facilities, or museums, or subjected to deliberate neglect.”

“The Armenian Assembly strongly supports swift passage of the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act and calls on all Members of Congress to stand with those who seek to protect religious freedom,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “The continued destruction of Christian heritage in Turkey is a glaring reminder of one of the many consequences of Turkey’s state-sponsored denial of the Armenian Genocide,” Ardouny said.