Syrian Christians have this morning put out a desperate appeal for help as ISIS launches new attacks against them along the Khabour River in northeast Syria. According to Rima Tüzün of the European Syriac Union, members of the community who have taken up arms to defend themselves are without ammunition, and 17 Syriac Military Council fighters are surrounded by ISIS in the town of Tel Maghasneh.
This wave of attacks by ISIS on the Christian towns along the Khabour River began with a pre-dawn raid twelve days ago, on February 23rd. Over the next several days, ISIS abducted between 262 and 373 Syriac Christians. On March 1st, 19 of those hostages were released, and on March 3rd, another 2 were released, including 6-year old Mariana Mirza.
While the hostages reported that they had not been mistreated, they were told that they must convert to Islam, pay the jizya [a tax on Christians], or they would be killed. The following is taken from an interview conducted by the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) with one of the hostages:
Robert: They placed us in two small rooms. We spent the night there.
AINA: What did they say to you?
Robert: They asked us to convert to Islam.
AINA: That was the first thing they said?
Robert: Yes, that was their idea that we should convert to Islam.
AINA: Who was speaking to you?
Robert: Many bearded people spoke to us, and everyone asked us to convert to Islam…They kept pressuring us to convert to Islam, it was their constant focus. But we were not mistreated.
AINA: When ISIS asked you to convert to Islam, what was your answer?
Robert: We said we would not convert. They said you must then pay the jizya [a Christian poll tax] or leave the country. That was the option given to us. We said we would pay the jizya but we would not convert.
AINA: How much was the jizya?
Robert: They said this time they would not collect the jizya because we had not fought against them. They said that they would release us on condition that we not return to our village. They said if we returned and they captured us again they would kill us without any other option, they would behead the men and enslave the women.
Yesterday, March 6, several news outlets reported that all the remaining prisoners had been released. But today the European Syriac Union is reporting that is not true.
The statement that has been released this morning reads as follows:
URGENT—ISIS ATTACKING SYRIAC-ASSYRIANS NOW. BEGAN IN EARLY HOURS TODAY IN SYRIA. SHELLING TEL TAMR. CROSSING KHABUR RIVER TO SOUTH OF TEL TAMR BETWEEN TWO VILLAGES. STREET FIGHTING IN TEL NASARI. 17 SYRIAC MILITARY COUNCIL FIGHTERS SURROUNDED IN TEL MAGHASNEH.
HEAVY WEAPONS & TROOPS STREAMING FROM MOUNT ABDUL AZIZ FOR MAJOR ASSAULT ON ENTIRE AREA. ALLIED AIR STRIKES URGENTLY NEEDED. SYRIAC MILITARY COUNCIL ASKS FOR INTERNATIONAL HELP.
ISIS appears to be conducting a coordinated campaign to eradicate all traces of Christianity from ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria. On February 26th, photographs were released of ISIS destroying Assyrian treasures and artifacts in the Museum of Mosul, and on March 5th, ISIS destroyed the ancient city of Nimrud, a city dating back to 1400 B.C., which was one of the capitals of Assyria. Assyria was one of the world’s great civilizations. Today most Assyrians are members of the Eastern Rite Assyrian church.
According to the Assyrian International News Agency, “In destroying Assyrian archaeological and historical sites, ISIS is striking at the very root of Assyrian civilization, erasing all traces of their heritage and extirpating them from their lands.”
Katie Gorka is the president of the Council on Global Security. @katharinegorka.