ISIS is holding hundreds of Assyrian Christians captured over the last three days in northeastern Syria, a strategic area that’s rich in natural resources and vital as the historic heartbeat of Christianity in the Middle East.
Estimates of the number taken into captivity have climbed steadily since Monday, when new attacks by ISIS, or the Islamic State, on about 30 villages were first reported. Today the Islamic fighters are holding 262 Assyrians, according to the Assyrian Human Rights Network. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the number of Assyrian hostages seized over the past three days at 220. Locals suspect the numbers are higher.
Residents in Hasaka Province have named and confirmed 135 persons from five villages as captured by ISIS, said Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East. An additional 51 families, according to Youkhana, who heads up relief efforts for CAPNI, an Assyrian agency working in Syria and northern Iraq, are reported captured from the village of Tel Shamiram.
“None of the families of this village managed to flee,” he said by email this morning.
Residents in Tel Shamiram fought ISIS with many casualties, and Youkhana said there has been “no news” on the destiny of the 51 families. Locals believe they have been kidnapped and taken to Mount Abdul Aziz, a nearby area controlled by the Islamic State. Youkhana estimates each family likely averages five members, bringing to 250 the estimated number captured from Tel Shamiram alone.
At least 15 young Assyrian Christians have been killed trying to protect their villages, Youkhana said, but that, too, is a number that is likely to increase. In the village of Tel Hormizd there are confirmed reports that two female fighters working with a militia to protect the village had been captured—and one of them beheaded.
Thirty-five villages along the Khabur River have been attacked by Islamic State fighters suspected of falling back from fighting in Kobane, the mostly Kurdish city on Syria’s border with Turkey. Kobane was the scene of a four-month battle between Kurdish forces and Islamic State fighters. In recent weeks, Kurds succeeded in mostly retaking the city of more than 200,000 with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes. But as ISIS fighters melted back into Syria and launched Monday’s attacks in predominantly Christian Hasaka Province, no allied forces came to their aid.
“American bombers flew over the area several times, but without taking action,” reported Youkhana.
The Assyrians also did not receive any assistance from the Red Crescent or the Syrian government, he said, possibly because they are Christians. He added that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) “is nowhere to be seen.”
By Thursday, relief agencies estimated that the ISIS attacks have displaced at least 1,200 families. Most are taking shelter in churches and elsewhere in the towns of Hasaka and Qameshli, near the Syrian border with Iraq. For the most part, the families were forced to leave behind all their possessions and have arrived without food or bedding. Church leaders who were the last to leave say their towns are empty of residents now.
Hasaka Province encompasses a fertile valley nursed by the Khabur River. Before Syria’s civil war began almost four years ago, the area grew most of the country’s wheat, rice, vegetables, and even cotton. More recently it has been the center of Syria’s small but valuable oil industry.
The Assyrian cities of the province are some of the oldest in the world, and Assyrian Christians in Hasaka started the world’s earliest seminaries and put into Syriac (or Aramaic, the language of Jesus) the oldest liturgies in the world, many still in use. From the ancient Assyrian towns across the region, the early church sent the first missionaries to central Asia along the Silk Road, then to India and China.
The news of the mass kidnappings comes on the heels of Islamic State affiliates in Libya kidnapping and publicly executing 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians earlier this month. Assyrians and Kurds in the area say they hope the Khabur River villages can be liberated, but locals say they have more fear than hope. Rumors in northern Syria on Thursday said the Sunni mosque of one village had announced a mass killing of “infidels” set for Friday.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo courtesy: Thinkstock
Publication date: March 2, 2015