ACN Press Release: Syria Extremists IS – seize Christian towns

Iraq, June 2010 Father Emanuel Youkhana in his office Photo: CAPNI

By John Newton, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

ACN, Montreal – Tuesday, February 14, 2015 – According to recent reports, one hundred Assyrian Christians in the north-eastern region of Khabour in Syria’s Hassake governate, have been captured and are being held by the extremist Islamist organization IS following attacks on several Assyrian villages yesterday morning, the 23rd of February, and provoking a mass exodus of hundreds toward Hassake city and leaving many trapped and surrounded as the soldiers advanced.

Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, leader of the Assyrian Christians and head of CAPNI (Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq) told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he had spoken to a CAPNI contact, who prefers to remain anonymous, in Hassake city, where hundreds of families have fled, “Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel… told me the church and community hall are overloaded with the people and they are now [sending] them to the families in Hassake city.”

“The fight started Monday early morning 4am Syrian time when IS opened a 40km long battle front from Tel Shamiram to Tel Hormizd. IS took advantage of [the fact that the] PYD (Democratic Union Kurdish Party) [had] been fighting in other places – mainly the Syrian-Iraqi borders. So, there were less resistance to face IS fighters. In general, IS was supported by Arab Sunni neighboring villages.”

The destiny of these families of major concern

The situation for Christians is extremely difficult, “There are no clear numbers of the families, but more than 600 families managed to flee. Most of them are in Hassake,” where we are told the people have found refuge in churches – and around 200 others in Qamishly.

“Unfortunately,” explains Archimandrite Youkhana to ACN as told to him by the anonymous source, “most of the families failed to escape and were captured by IS. – 50 families in Tel Shamiran, 26 families in Tel Gouran, 28 families in Tel Jezira, and 14 young people (12 males and 2 females) who were defending Tel Hormiz had been seized by IS and separated men from women and children.” Knowing the brutal barbaric record of IS with the captured, the destiny of those families is a major concern to us,” he added.  One of these sad examples was the martyring of you Milad, only 17 years of age.

According to Archmandrite Youkhana, at least two villages – Tal Shamiran and Tal Hermiz – were still surrounded by IS yesterday evening. The churches in both villages have been torched. “According to the source, IS been defeated in Kobane some places, [but] it tried to gain in other places.” The water level of the Khabur River was able to serve as a natural defense for some villages on the other side of the river.  Some villagers witnessed fires burning in other villages further on which had been seized by IS.

Father Emanuel Youkahna (Iraq) with displaced peoplePhoto: CAP

Father Emanuel Youkahna (Iraq) with displaced people  Photo: CAPNI

But Archmandrite Youkhana also drew attention to acts of solidarity between Sunni Muslims and the attacked Christians. “Arab Sunni villagers nearby Assyrian village of Qaber Shamiat rescued 15 Assyrians (13 males and two females) who are protected by them and are expected to be guided and transported to Hassake, to the church,” he said.

There are 35 Assyrian villages in the Khabour region which were founded in the 1930s following the August massacre in 1933 which took place in Iraq forcing Christians to flee to Syria with the hope of one day returning to their homeland of Iraq. The term ‘village’ is never attributed to their dwelling but always referred to as a ‘camps’ to describe their colonies which were to be temporary installments until they could return home, as was explained to us by the Archmandrite who also said:  “May God bring an end to the continuous suffer of the people in our countries and worldwide.”

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Greetings from Dohuk – Iraq

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Today I would like to share with you the points below which we heard from the majority of the displaced people who we met.

Why we need international protection?

Why we need safe haven area?

ANKAWA-7

There are today new realities on the ground in northern Iraq after the speed through which ISIS controlled vast swaths of land including area mainly inhabited by non-Muslim indigenous minorities (Christians and Yezidis).  With regard to the above those minorities are in fear of losing their centuries old culture, faith, livelihood, and heritage.  The situation of these indigenous people is in real peril if something is not done fast.  They are living a real fear of extinction and eradication if they are not protected and we believe we need to do that for the following reasons:

1- They have lost trust in the Iraqi government’s will and capacity to protect them, needless to say how the Iraqi forces left Mosul or rather surrendered Mosul and many other areas to ISIS without putting up a fight.

2- They have lost trust in KRG’s capacity to protect them. In some cases the famous Peshmarga escaped without informing the civilians they were supposed to protect.

3- They have lost trust in their own neighbors, in the city of Mosul as well as other cities such as Sinjar and Telkef where non-Muslim minorities lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors in peace and tranquility as long as there was a power that checked the Muslim majority. In the absence of that power, the Muslim neighbors saw their non-Muslim neighbors stealing all they can put their hands  just like what happened in the aftermath of the Massacre of Semele (Iraq) in 1933. With the power vacuum that was instigated by the ill-designed policies of the Iraqi government and with the sweeping control of ISIS, it was the neighbors who told ISIS where were the non-Muslim houses were because they, Muslim neighbors, served as an incubator to support ISIS terrorists, not only did they show the houses to ISIS but they also participated in the looting and stealing that ensued.

4- We see that the perpetuity of these ancient communities has become, at this point, the responsibility of the civilized world, because they have lost all faith in their government(s) and neighbors

5- The world has to stop the current genocide, displacement, and forced migration, and that could only be accomplished if we protect these minorities In their own historic lands and we believe this is doable if the world acts on establishing a safe haven area.

6- It will be good even for those Muslim neighbors alluded to in 3 above as these thriving minorities will serve as catalysts that will benefit the cultural exchange and coexistence across the Iraqi mosaic.

ANKAWA-4

7- It will serve as an international example if marketed wisely to the region and the world.  The success of which could serve as a good example of the possibility of different ethnic groups, religions to live side by side in peace and harmony.

8- It will entice the local governments to induce the example into their education systems and eventually to the national level which will lead to forming laws and regulations where ethnic and religious minorities will not feel they are second class citizens.

9- It will prevent further forced migration and eventually lift a burden on the economy of the western countries these non-Muslim minorities are heading to.

10- It will tell the majority Muslims in Iraq that they are on the watch when it comes to persecuting non-Muslims.

11- it will force other countries with non-Muslim minorities to be on the watch and treat their non-Muslim minorities fairly.

This is a cry for help, this is an appeal for preservation of ancient human culture that contributed to immensely to mankind, we hope you will find in your good heart the means and ways to protect these minorities.

Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana

ܐܪܟܕܝܩܘܢ ܥܡܢܘܐܝܠ ܝܘܚܢܢ

Christian Aid Program CAPNI

Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan