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Fears for Syrian Christians kidnapped by Islamic State

26 February 2015


Exodus: A woman who fled from a village in the Hassakeh region talks about her flight to Qamishli on Monday in a video uploaded to the A Demand for Action Facebook group. "We woke up to the sound of clashing. We didn't know what it was, until we saw that everyone in the camp was fleeing because ISIS had entered the village. . . There was so much fear in our hearts that we didn't even know how to escape. In the south [of the village] even old men and women were fleeing. . . The men remained and ushered the women and children, and they still remain there, fighting."

Exodus: A woman who fled from a village in the Hassakeh region talks about her flight to Qamishli on Monday in a video uploaded to the A Demand...

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 Tuesday.

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 hostages."

He is also among those calling for airstrikes in the region by Western forces.

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 weapons.                          

"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 executed.

"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 mallets.



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