WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) questioned U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power during a State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee hearing on the crisis in Syria, specifically asking her to outline the concrete steps that the United States and United Nations are taking to address the March 21st attacks on the historically Armenian populated region of Kessab, Syria.
During the questioning, Schiff asked: “About a week ago, the town of Kessab, which is predominantly Armenian Christian, was attacked by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters who had crossed over from Turkey and the town was emptied in a bloody assault. Many of the residents are descendants of victims of the Armenian Genocide and there is particular poignancy in them being targeted in this manner.”
Rep. Schiff went on to ask what efforts the United Nations and its agencies are making to address the crisis. In her response, Ambassador Power noted that the recent attacks were a “huge concern.”
Power responded: “Most of the [UN Security] Council members raised the issue of Kessab, calling on the UN to do more, to try to meet the needs of these people. […] I would note that, unfortunately, the extremist group that appears to have taken hold of that town is not one that the United States and the United Nations overall has a great deal of leverage over. And so, our emphasis now, is on supporting the moderate opposition in Syria that is taking on those extremist groups and making sure that the UN has the funding it needs, and the resources of all kinds that it needs to accommodate […] in this case, the Syrian Armenian community, as you said, an internally displaced population flow. So, it’s resources, it’s strengthening the moderate opposition which is taking on ISIL – the very group that appears to have taken over that town – making sure that none of the neighbors are giving support to terrorist groups or extremist groups which would aid their efforts in seizures like that, and going on a funding drive internationally because only a very small percentage of the UN funding appeal for Syria generally has been filled at this point.”
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Thank you, Madam Chair. Welcome, Ambassador.
At the outset, I want to just express my support for that flexible funding mechanism for U.N. peacekeeping missions. Regrettably, given how unstable the world is right now, it’s not a question of whether we’ll need to support such operations only where.
And I would much rather make that kind of investment than have to either have American boots on the ground or suffer the effects of total state failure and collapse and all the related risks that we ultimately face as a result of those failed states.
I wanted to just direct my question to Syria. Syrian civil war has claimed the lives of at least 150,000 people, one third of whom are civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced yesterday. Millions more have been forced to flee their homes to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and even Iraq. And millions more have become internally displaced, their fates hanging on the ebb and flow of battle.
While all of Syria’s people have suffered from the fighting, it is minority populations and especially Syrian Christians who are most at risk.
As you know, Ambassador, these are some of the oldest Christian communities in the world dating back to the 1st century A.D.
About a week ago, the town of Kasab, which is predominantly Armenian Christian, was attacked by al-Qaida-linked fighters who had crossed over from Turkey, and the town was emptied in a bloody assault. Many of the residents of Kasab are descendants of the victims of the Armenian genocide, and there is a particular poignancy to their being targeted in this manner.
Can you tell us what efforts the U.N. and its agencies working in and around Syria are making to safeguard Syrian minority communities?
My understanding is that many of them are resistant to seeking refuge in U.N. agency, our and other NGO facilities out of fear for their safety and are thus more likely to be internally displaced persons.
Also, is the Kasab issue in particular or minority issues generally on the agenda in New York with reference to Syria?
And finally, is there diplomatic movement at all in resolving the Syrian conflict, or is Assad so confident of his military advantage now that any hope of a diplomatic resolution is essentially gone?
AMBASSADOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you, Congressman.
First, on the peacekeeping response mechanism, thank you for raising it, and let me just say a word on that knowing that not all may think it’s the best idea right from the — right from the beginning.
This mechanism comes about because of what we have gone through in the — in the last few budget cycles where real-world exigencies like that in Mali are now — potentially in the Central African Republic — arise after we’ve submitted our budget. You know, the bad guys in the world are not responsive to our budget cycles. And we’re trying to prevent the rise of extremism, protect civilians, you know, meet humanitarian needs.
This is not something where the money would be spent on anything other than the kind of emergencies that this committee, subcommittee and the larger committee have expressed and proven their support for over the years.
And one of the things that I was — that we would be very eager to discuss with you is how could we create some kind of consultative process where you felt at the heart of the decision-making around the use of such a mechanism.
But we are finding ourselves — our decisions base shrunk in New York when a crisis arises because of the prior year’s cycles. And if you look at, you know, refugee funding and so forth, they’ve found a way — because refugee flows also are unpredictable — to embed, I gather, within refugee programming a little bit of flexibility, again, allowing for the kind much consultation that could allow real-world emergencies and real-world peacekeeping missions, exigencies to secure funding in a nimble way.
On Kasab, it is an issue of huge concern, and the broader fate of minorities and all the Syrian people is of pressing concern. In terms of what the U.N. is doing about that particular — the takeover of that particular town, the Security Council has met recently — I believe it was just — I’ve lost track of time with my preparation for this hearing — but I think it was late last week on Friday where we discussed the humanitarian situation in Syria generally. And most of the council members raised the issue of Kasab, calling on the U.N. to do more to try to meet the needs of these people. This was in a closed consultation on the humanitarian situation in Syria in compliance with the humanitarian resolution.
You know, I would note that, unfortunately, the extremist group that has taken — appears to have taken hold of that town is not one that the United States or the United Nations has a huge amount of leverage over. And so our emphasis now is on supporting the moderate opposition in Syria that is taking on those extremist groups and making sure that the U.N. has the funding it needs and the resources of all kinds that it needs to accommodate refugee flow along — or IDP in the case of the Armenian — the Syrian-Armenian community, as you say, an internally displaced flow.
So it’s resources. It’s strengthening the moderate opposition, which is taking on ISIL, the very group that took — that appears to have taken over that town, making sure that none of the neighbors are giving support to terrorist groups or extremist groups which would aid their efforts in seizures like that and going on a funding drive internationally because only a very small percentage of the U.N. funding appeal for Syria generally has been filled at this point.