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.
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.”