A community in northeast Syria inhabited primarily by Assyrian Christians has been under steady assault by ISIS for the past 18 days, and they are barely holding on, according to Rima Tuezuen of the Syriac European Union. When the attack first began on February 23rd, ISIS abducted hundreds of Christian prisoners, only 23 of whom have been released so far.
The fate of up to 350 people remains unknown, and around 5,000 others were forced to flee from their homes. Kurdish and Christian militia are fighting side by side to defend these towns along the Khabour River Valley in Hassaka Province, but ISIS is not relenting, and success here would have serious ramifications for Christian populations further north.
Rima Tuezuen stated, “We all know that if ISIS wins here it will go after all our peoples and kill or enslave them and put them through horrors. ISIS has proven this time and again. We face death and fight to live.”
On Monday, March 9, Mar Awa Royel, bishop for the Diocese of California of the Assyrian Church of the East, traveled to Washington to meet with Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor, as well as other senior government officials. According to the press release from the White House, Mr. Rhodes “reaffirmed the Administration’s commitment to support the Assyrian Christian community and to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.” However, the United States has not yet taken any concrete action and there have been no airstrikes in the region since Sunday.
In sharp contrast to the U.S. Administration’s perfunctory statement on the crisis, the European Parliament today passed a strongly worded resolution which unequivocally condemns ISIS’ actions in Iraq and Syria and calls those actions “a deliberate policy of cultural and ethnic cleansing,” “Crimes against humanity,” and “genocide”:
…in the areas under its control, ISIS/Da’esh is extracting an unacceptable and irreparable price from millenarian civilisations; whereas, notably in Iraq and Syria, but also in other parts of the wider Middle East, the situation facing Christian communities is such as to endanger their very existence, and if they were to disappear, this would entail the loss of a significant part of the religious heritage of the countries concerned;
…whereas as part of a deliberate policy of cultural and religious cleansing, IS has reportedly destroyed more than 100 churches in Iraq, and at least 6 churches in Syria.
Notably, the statement also stands as something of a challenge to the Obama administration because it says that ISIS is indeed Islamic: “…one of the roots of the ISIS/Da’esh violence is Salafism, notably the extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.” The statement condemns what it calls “certain countries’ ambivalent roles in the conflict,” particularly Gulf countries that have funded terrorism and the export of Wahhabi Islam.
The European Parliament called on the international coalition to do more to prevent the abduction of minorities, such as the Asyrian Christians, and encouraged EU members who were not yet supporting the international coalition to do so now.
As of today, fighting is still heavy and there has been no outside assistance. According to the Syriac Military twitter feed (@SyriacMFS) Syriac and Kurdish militia are currently engaging in heavy clashes against ISIS in Tel Masri and Tel Tamer.
Below is Breitbart’s interview with Bishop Royel, who spoke about the crisis facing the Syriac Christians:
Katie Gorka is president of the Council on Global Security. @katharinegorka.