Holding a bloody shirt he carries with him to remember the Islamic State's crimes against Iraqi Christians, Douglas Bazi described for a Washington audience Thursday how he's suffered at ISIS' hands: He was kidnapped, had his teeth bashed in with a hammer and watched as his church was bombed.
“There is not ‘life’ in Iraq,” Bazi said, noting his congregation has been targeted so often it is called the “church of the martyrs, or the church of the blood.”
Bazi joined Middle Eastern Christian leaders and human rights advocates from the Knights of Columbus on Thursday as the group, along with In Defense of Christians (IDC), released a powerful and comprehensive report they say makes the case that the terror campaign against Christians and other minorities in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East can only be called one thing: genocide.
The report, along with the personal accounts conveyed at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, put even more pressure on the Obama administration to officially label the atrocities as genocide.
The State Department and White House so far have not done so, but are facing a congressionally mandated March 17 deadline to make a decision.
“We are forgotten, and we are alone,” Bazi, a former ISIS hostage and now a priest at an Irbil refugee camp, lamented.
Bazi was joined by Irbil-based Dankha Joola, who pointed out that of the 2 million Christians who lived in Iraq before the war, fewer than 300,000 reside there today -- many victims of killings and kidnappings, others forced to leave their homes by radicals, Al Qaeda, and now ISIS.
Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, which produced the 278-page document with IDC, hopes this report will help advance their cause.
"The evidence contained in this report as well as the evidence relied upon by the European Parliament fully support -- I would suggest compel -- the conclusion that reasonable grounds exist to believe the crime of genocide has been committed," Anderson said.
The report lists 1,131 Iraqi Christians killed between 2003 and June 9, 2014, including where they were killed and when. It also incorporates 24 pages of witness statements collected between February and March of this year, and nearly 200 documented attacks -- including destruction of property, sexual assaults, enslavement, torture, imprisonment and killing -- in Iraq, Syria and North Africa. Also included is a documenting of attacks on 125 Iraqi churches from 2003 to 2014.
The report also features a legal brief arguing that the crimes committed rise to the level of the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987, and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The European Parliament in February already declared that genocide is taking place in the Middle East against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities at the hands of the Islamic State.
"While we believe this to be the most comprehensive report on this subject to date, covering incidents in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, we continue to receive new reports and new evidence," Anderson said Thursday. But with new reports pouring in every day, he cautioned: "It may only be the tip of the iceberg."
There have been widespread reports of crucifixions, beheadings and kidnappings, with women and girls forced into marriages with ISIS fighters, or sold into sexual slavery. In Syria, Christians once accounted for 10 percent of the population, but today their numbers have declined to an estimated 1 million or less. Last summer, ISIS kidnapped nearly 300 Christians from Syrian villages and later ransomed them back for $100,000 per person. The money was raised by the Assyrian Christian diaspora.
On March 4, gunmen stormed a Catholic retirement home in Yemen and gunned down 16 people, including four Indian nuns affiliated with the order established by Mother Teresa. According to reports, the city of Aden where the attack occured has seen its Christian population flee.
While groups like the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization, press the administration to make the genocide designation, Congress is applying similar pressure.
There are bills with strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate expressing the sense of Congress that those who commit or support violence against Christians and other ethnic minorities including Yazidis, Turkmen and Kurds for ethnic or religious reasons are committing genocide.
When pressed, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a recent House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that “you have to get facts from the ground, more than just anecdotal.”
The Knights of Columbus say they were asked to conduct Thursday’s report by David Saperstein, ambassador at-large for religious freedom at the State Department, to give the administration the evidence “on the ground,” and hopes it will clarify matters in Foggy Bottom.
When asked on March 1 why the administration has yet to make the determination, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the word genocide “involves a very specific legal determination that has, at this point, not been reached.”
Advocates say this report proves the legal thresholds have been met, and then some.
“We think the legal question is met and I would reiterate that what is required by the statute is a finding of probable cause, which is not beyond a shadow of a doubt, it that there are reasonable grounds to believe that this crime has occurred and is occurring,” said Anderson, “and I think the facts in this report establish, compellingly, that there are reasonable grounds to believe this crime is being committed.”
The State Department did not return a request for comment, though administration officials have said they recognize and will work to address the violence against Christians and other groups regardless of the words used to describe it.
At least three presidential cadidates -- Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz on the Republican side, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side -- have called on the administration to designate this as a 'genocide.'