A member of the U.S. House of Representatives has expressed serious concern about the fate of the Armenian and other Christian minorities in Syria increasingly suffering from the country’s civil war and called for U.S. government support for them.
“I’m just very, very concerned,” Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Florida, told RFE/RL in an interview. “We have some constituents here. They live in my district and they’re concerned for their relatives, they don’t have a place to go.”
“We have to speak out on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ and I will continue to do so,” he said.
Bilirakis, who is a member of Congressional Caucasus on Armenian Issues, introduced last week a draft House resolution that calls on the U.S. administration to prioritize the security of Syria’s Christians and other religious minorities in its policies on the Middle Eastern nation. He expressed hope that the non-binding resolution will reach the House floor as early as next month.
“With regard to Syria, it calls on both sides to the conflict to respect the dignity, human rights, religious freedom of all Syrians,” explained Bilirakis. “It calls on Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton to predicate any conversation on the need to protect religious freedom. I feel we have an obligation here in the United States and I want to continue to speak out on behalf of Christians and all religious minorities in the Middle East.”
The lawmaker said Washington should make any aid to a future Syrian government conditional on protection of minority rights. “We know that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has to go, he is corrupt, he is funding terrorists such as Hezbollah,” he said. “But whatever government is put in place, we want to make sure it’s in the constitution, in the bill of rights, if you will, that guarantees freedom of religion, expression and speech.”
Bilirakis said Washington should also make sure that Armenians and other Christians are represented in the Syrian National Council, an Istanbul-based coalition of opposition forces trying to topple the ruling regime in Damascus. “We need to make it a priority,” he said.
Most of Syria’s 80,000 or so ethnic Armenians appear to remain supportive of Assad’s regime, having benefited from relative safety and cultural autonomy that has for decades been enjoyed by Syrian Christians.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of Syrian Armenians have fled the country in recent months. Many of them have taken refuge in Armenia. Their exodus has accelerated since the outbreak of heavy fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels in Aleppo about two weeks ago. The vast majority of Syrian Armenians live in that sprawling city.