FEARS are growing for the safety of Assyrian Christians
kidnapped by Islamic State in North-East Syria. Reports emerged on
Wednesday that some had already been killed.
Estimates of the number seized continue to rise, from 90 on
Monday, the day of the attack, to at least 220 on Thursday. It is
reported that women and children are among them.
Militants attacked villages in the Hassakeh region, which
borders Iraq, on Monday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
reported on Thursday that 220 people had been taken from 11
villages. Two churches had been set on fire.
Osama Edward, founder of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told
CNN on Thursday that the number had risen to 262. "ISIS is taking
over more and more Assyrian towns," he said.
Sharlet and Romel David, living in California, told a CNN
affiliate on Wednesday that 12 members of their famiy were believed
to be among the kidnapped.
"What we've heard is it was like a sea of black uniforms
marching through all the villages, burning down the churches,
desecrating the crosses and wreaking havoc," said Mr David.
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, the special envoy to the
Christian programme in northern Iraq, told the charity Aid to the
Church in Need on Thursday that 15 of those seized had been killed
by IS: "Many of them were fighting to defend and protect the
villages and families." He reported that 350 were being held. This
number was repeated by a Asyriac Military Council spokesman who
spoke to the BBC World Service on Wednesday, who said that pictures
and sources had confirmed that some had been killed.
It is believed that the attacks may be an act of revenge for an
offensive by Kurdish and Christian fighters.
The Asyriac Military Council spokesman spokesman told the BBC
that there were around 400 Aysriac Christian fighters in the area
and that, in coalition with Kurdish forces, they had launched an
attack on IS in a nearby region just two days before the attack.
The villagers had already faced demands to pay the jizya
(a tax on non-Muslims) and to remove crosses from churches, he
said. "People here knew that they were in danger, but they
preferred to stay in their villages, and they participated in the
defence of their existence in their historical land."
It is understood that about 3000 people managed to flee the IS
raid, travelling to the nearby cities of Qamishli and Hassakah.
They are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, having fled
with "nothing but the clothes on their back", said Mardean Isaac, a
member of the campaign group A Demand For Action (ADFA), on
Mr Isaac is calling for Western states to support mediation
aimed at the release of the hostages: "If Western states have
agreed to involve themselves in the war against ISIS, then they
should also pressure all parties to abide by the articles and
precedents of the Geneva convention regarding situations of
prisoner exchange, and should actively seek the release of the
He is also among those calling for airstrikes in the region by
Ablahd Kourieh, an Assyrian Christian who is deputy head of a
Kurdish-led defense council in northeastern Syria, echoed this plea
on Thursday, in an interview with Reuters: "We call for bombardment
of the terrorists' positions there, and the provision of quality
"Our message to the alliance is to be sincere in their promises.
Today is the third day of this attack . . . and we haven't seen a
single coalition aeroplane bomb the area."
On Wednesday, a US government spokeswoman condemned the IS
attacks, and said that the United States would "continue to lead
the fight to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL".
Assyrian Christians, who trace their history back to the first
century, took refuge in the Hassakeh region in 1933, after the
Simele massacre, in which the Iraqi army killed up to 3000 of their
number. It is almost 100 years since the Armenian genocide, during
which Assyrian Christians were among those systematically
"The Assyrian people are not merely Christians, but indigenous
inhabitants of the Middle East," wrote Mr Isaac on Facebook. "The
persecution unleashed on them - including extortion,
kidnappings, murder, the ethnic cleansing of entire swaths of
Baghdad, the Nineveh Plains, and now much of north-east Syria - has
been so vast that their very existence in their ancestral homelands
is in grave peril. . . We are watching a living history, and all
that that comprises, disappear."
On Thursday, film was released apparently showing militants
entering a museum in Ninevah and destroying centuries-old Assyrian
artefacts, toppling statues from plinths and pounding them with