(AINA) -- Former Republican presidential candidate and current Senator from Arizona, John McCain, sent a letter to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani regarding Assyrians in the Kurdish region in north Iraq. In the letter, dated May 25, McCain expresses "...concerns regarding alarming new reports that allege the mistreatment of the Christian Assyrian community in the Nineveh Plains region by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)." Senator McCain states in the letter that "...it remains essential to not only protect, but also respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Assyrian community and similarly vulnerable peoples in Iraq."
Two Assyrian groups in Arizona met with Senator McCain, who is the current Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, and his staff in Phoenix.
The first delegation met directly with Senator McCain on May 7. The meeting was organized by Sam Darmo, an Assyrian resident of Phoenix. The Assyrian delegation included Sam Darmo, Bishop Aprem Khamis, Archdeacon Frederick Hermiz, Henry Benjamin, Timothy Elias and Mona K. Oshana.
The delegation discussed the plight of the Assyrians in the Middle East, particularly Iraq and Syria, as well as the condition of Assyrians in Kurdish controlled areas in north Iraq. The delegation called attention to Kurdish expropriation of Assyrian lands (AINA 2016-04-14, 2016-05-09), preventing freedom of movement of Assyrians, denying basic services and confiscation of weapons (AINA 2014-08-14).
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Senator McCain stated in the letter:
...I was troubled by their reports that the KRG has denied basic services to the Assyrian community, prevented their freedom of movement and assembly, and confiscated weapons desperately needed to defend the community from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Of further concern were their reports of land confiscation and statements you have made regarding Kurdish territorial claims to the Nineveh Plains region. I hope you will address these allegations and I ask for your clarification on these important issues.
Mr. Darmo briefed Senator McCain on the current military situation facing the Assyrians in Iraq, including the battle with ISIS in the Assyrian town of Telsquf, in which Navy Seal Charlie Keating, an Arizona native, was killed and four Assyrians wounded (AINA 2016-05-18).
On March 14 the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 75 , sponsored by Jeff Fortenberry and other members of Congress, that recognized ISIS crimes against Assyrians and Yazidis as genocide. The equivalent Senate resolution 340 requires minor changes to align the language with the House resolution. Mrs. Mona K Oshana urged the Senator to make the necessary changes in the language. Both the Senator and his staff assured the delegation this issue would immediately be addressed.
On March 17 the U.S. State Department recognized the crimes of ISIS against Assyrians and Yazidis as genocide.
On May 12th a second delegation met with Senator McCain's staff to discuss a variety of issues concerning the Assyrian-American community. The delegation was from the Assyrian American Cultural Organization of Arizona (AACO), and included President Ashor Bet Chamoun, Vice-President Alan Mooshekh and Director Dan Khamis.
The delegation called attention to abuses perpetrated against Assyrians in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. In consonance with the delegation of Assyrian American National Federation affiliates who met in Washington in May (AINA 2016-05-18) and the first Assyrian delegation, the AACO delegation stressed the importance of establishing an internationally protected Safe Haven for Assyrians and other minorities in Iraq, U.S. support for Assyrian NGOs in Iraq, and for U.S. leaders to address the Kurdistan Regional Government on its abuses against Assyrians in Northern Iraq.
Here is the full text of Senator McCain's letter:
President Massoud Barzani,
I write to you to express my concerns regarding alarming new reports that allege the mistreatment of the Christian Assyrian community in the Nineveh Plains region by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Despite heightened political instability and violence in the region, it remains essential to not only protect, but also respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Assyrian community and similarly vulnerable peoples in Iraq.
I recently had the pleasure to meet with the Christian Assyrian community in Phoenix, Arizona, many of whom have relatives and loved ones living in Iraq, and they expressed their collective concerns regarding the treatment of Christians in Northern Iraq. While listening to their testimony, I was troubled by their reports that the KRG has denied basic services to the Assyrian community, prevented their freedom of movement and assembly, and confiscated weapons desperately needed to defend the community from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Of further concern were their reports of land confiscation and statements you have made regarding Kurdish territorial claims to the Nineveh Plains region. I hope you will address these allegations and I ask for your clarification on these important issues.
The Christian Assyrian community has a long history in Iraq and they have contributed significantly to the country's unique social fabric. They deserve the same rights and protection as other groups and minority communities in the region, including the Kurdish community. Therefore, I encourage you and your government to respect and protect their fundamental rights and freedom, and work with local Assyrian community leaders on communal governance initiatives.
The United States deeply values its strong relationship with the KRG and Peshmerga forces, and we are proud to provide assistance to your government including up to $480 million for food, fuel, medical supplies and stipends for Peshmerga fighters as well as two brigade sets of equipment. The Peshmerga forces have been instrumental in the fight against ISIL, and the KRG has routinely proven itself a reliable ally. But as ISIL continues to threaten our collective security, we cannot afford to endanger our partnership through actions that could undermine the shared values at its foundation. I hope you will work towards a more cooperative relationship with the Christian Assyrian community and honor the commitment you made to protect the Assyrians and similarly vulnerable peoples in the Nineveh Plains. I look forward to continuing my support for your government's efforts and working with you to fulfill our collective humanitarian obligations.
United States Senator
Mona K. Oshana contributed reporting.