After the reports of attacks against Christian in Syria, Katie Gorka, President of the Council on Global Security, spoke directly to representatives of the Assyrian community currently under attack:
Around 4:00 in the morning on Monday, February 23rd, an estimated 1500 ISIS fighters attacked a series of Christian towns in northeast Syria, burning churches, taking as many as 90 hostages, and forcing hundreds to flee from their homes.
According to reports from the Syriac Military Council, a Christian self-defense organization, when ISIS fighters attacked the town of Tel Shamiram, they separated out the men, around 50 of whom they have taken into the mountains, and approximately 90 women and children are being held prisoner in the village by ISIS militants. Some residents were able to flee and they are currently sheltering in churches in Al-Hassaka and Al-Qamishli. According to one source, ISIS has taken 30 Christian young women and plans to distribute them as concubines in the town of Shadadeh.
Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, has made several recent visits to Washington, D.C. warning of the potential for these attacks and asking for U.S. support. He said Hassaka would no doubt be targeted because it separates ISIS in Syria from ISIS in Iraq. Ishak said that the Syriac Military Council had about 1100 troops, but weapons for only 500. The area is being defended by militia that include the Syriac Military Council (MFS), Christian police (Sutoro), the Khabur Guards, and the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG).
His Grace Mar Awa Royel, Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, Diocese of California, spoke earlier today with the Assyrian Bishop in the area where the attacks have taken place. Bishop Royel reported the following:
I was in contact around 3:00 a.m. this morning with our bishop who is in Hassaka. Over 400 families from the region of Khabour fled to Hassaka. They were brought to the cathedral. Bishop Afram Athneil received them. Initially they were housed in the church hall and in the bishop’s residence. Now they have been put up in homes in Hassaka and Qamishli. Qamishli is under the control of the government but Hassaka is not. The biggest fear is that ISIS is going to overrun the city of Hassaka which is where many Christians are now seeking protection. ISIS is attacking there because the Christians are there and Arab and Kurdish militia are there.
According to Bishop Afrem, the fighting began around 4:00 am Monday morning in the town of Tel Talmar, which is the regional center. The fighting became very intense and ISIS systematically began to take village by village along this 35 kilometer stretch of the Khabour River, all of which are populated by Assyrian Christians. In Tel Shamiram, 50 families have been taken out of their homes, the women and children are being kept in the school, and the village church has been burned. ISIS is saying they want to use the Christians as pawns in exchange for detainees.
In another village, Tel Hormizd, about 12-14 villagers were kidnapped and taken out of the village and nothing has been heard from them. The church there has also been burned down. 200 people were fleeing by car and bus from another village which the Bishop did not want to name in order to protect their flight. Tel Goran was also taken by ISIS and the fighting is currently heavy.
Bishop Royel has said the people of the region are desperate for help and he is asking American churches and Christians to condemn these latest actions of ISIS and to call on President Obama for immediate help to the region.
It is alleged that the Obama Administration did not include Christians from the north eastern region of Syria that is now under attack in its first round of training programs to train and equip the so-called moderate opposition forces. Whether Christians will be included in future training initiatives has not been determined.
Humanitarian assistance to the Christians under siege in northeast Syria can be donated through the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization (ACERO).
Katie Gorka is the president of the Council on Global Security. Follow her at @katharinegorka.