SYRIA – Assyrian Christians caught in crossfire of battle against IS
Assyrian Christian villages in north-east Syria have been taken over by militias from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as fighting continues to re-take the area from Islamic State. Kurdish militias have reportedly erected signs in different places in the villages along the Khabour River, warning the area is “dangerous and mined”. According to Assyria TV this is just “a trick” to scare Assyrians and justify occupation.
As the fight against IS intensifies, Christians once again have been caught up in the conflict. Kurdish militias have been accused of carrying out acts of violence and intimidation against Assyrian Christians in Hassake, the main city in the north-eastern province that lies close to the Khabour villages. Villages such as Tel Nasri and Tel Goran were caught between the Syrian army and Kurdish militias — both fighting ISIS — and eventually occupied by militias from YPG in 2015.
When the Khabour River region in the Hassake province was attacked by Islamic State in February 2015, 35 Assyrian villages were ransacked. A few days later ISIS kidnapped and 200 Assyrians hostages, all of whom were eventually released by after ransoms were paid.
The Assyrian Church of the East is an ancient branch of Christianity whose roots date back to the 1st century AD. Assyrian Christians speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and originated in ancient Mesopotamia — a territory which today spreads across northern Iraq, north-east Syria and south-eastern Turkey.
A synod of Chaldean Catholic bishops from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the US, Canada and Australia has urged for areas seized by IS to be liberated so that the displaced will be able to return home. Chaldeans were among around 120,000 Christians uprooted when ISIS seized Mosul and the Nineveh Plain in Iraq during the summer of 2014.