For much of the alarming surge of the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq, a great deal of attention on the resistance has remained on the Peshmerga, Kurdish fighters dedicated to keeping the Islamic State from expanding. Now, it is Assyrian Christians that are organizing similar militias to do their part in keeping the Islamist terrorists at bay.
The Agence France-Presse reports that Christian Assyrians in the village of Sharafiya are arming themselves and organizing forces in preparation for an attack from the Islamic State. Calling themselves the Dwekh Nawsha, which the AFP describes as “an Assyrian phrase conveying self-sacrifice,” they are believed to be one of the first to be an exclusively Christian group of soldiers.
Some, the AFP reports, are former officers in the Iraqi military. Others are civilians who require training, but all are committed to fighting the Islamic State. While the group notes it needs significantly larger amounts of weapons and better training, it claims to have already reached out to other groups, particularly in Lebanon, for support. It is believed that they total up to 2,000 at the moment, according to statistics provided by Iraq’s most prominent Christian political party, the Assyrian Democratic Movement.
Christians have been one of the Islamic State’s biggest targets, though it has also targeted for elimination all groups that do not adhere to their extremist version of Sunni Islam. While Christianity has thrived in Iraq since shortly after the establishment of the faith, some formerly Christian areas have been entirely emptied of their Christian populations. In Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, Islamic State jihadists destroyed Christian sites and forced all Christians to either convert and pay an infidel’s tax (jizya), leave the city, or accept execution. One woman forced to flee Mosul testified: “They told us, ‘Go away! This is not your land. Go to your Christian people and to your pastors. Let them feed you, shelter you, and give you homes.'”
It is estimated that 200,000 people have fled northern Iraq after repeated assaults against Christian and other minority villages by the terrorists of the Islamic State.
Iraq’s Yazidi minority has suffered alongside Christians, as the takeover of Mosul allowed the Islamic State to create a stronghold that opened an opportunity to attack Yazidi areas. The Yazidi, many of which live in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, were executed en masse in villages the Islamic State attacked, and many were forced to flee into Mount Sinjar, a difficult terrain devoid of food or water. Others, women and girls in particular, were taken captive, often to serve as sex slaves for the jihadists.
According to Yazidi Kurdish member of Parliament Sheikh Shamo, it is believed that 5,000 Yazidis died during the assault on Mount Sinjar. Twenty-five thousand are estimated to have been fully displaced and currently homeless, he said. Two-thousand girls have been abducted and not returned.
Shamo told Kurdish outlet Rudaw that, much like the Assyrians, the Yazidis are organizing a militia. With 600 volunteers, Yazidi soldiers have begun to train with Kurdish Peshmerga. “Most of them have served in the Iraqi army or the Peshmerga forces. We are planning to send them to Zakho military academy for training,” Shamo added.