Massacres a repeat of history for Assyrian Christians

by Joni B. Hannigan |

(REUTERS/Rodi Said)A general view shows a church in the Assyrian village of Abu Tina, which was recently captured by Islamic State fighters, February 25, 2015. Kurdish militia pressed an offensive against Islamic State in northeast Syria on Wednesday, cutting one of its supply lines from Iraq, as fears mounted for dozens of Christians abducted by the hardline group. The Assyrian Christians were taken from villages near the town of Tel Tamr, some 20 km (12 miles) to the northwest of the city of Hasaka. There has been no word on their fate. There have been conflicting reports on where the Christians had been taken.

HASAKA, Syria (Christian Examiner) – Thousands of Assyrian Christians fled their villages near Hasaka earlier this week as news spread Islamic State jihadists were attacking and kidnapping even the elderly, women and children.

Hours later, it was reported at least 150 Assyrian Christians were kidnapped. By midweek, however, Christian Examiner learned from sources on the ground in Syria the number of abducted could be as high as 285.

The BBC reported as well that at least 1,000 local Assyrian families had fled in the wake of the attacks.

Hasaka is in northeastern Syria near the borders with Turkey and Iraq, and Jalil Dawood, an Iraqi born pastor of the Arabic Church of Dallas, Texas, said what is so troubling about recent attacks there is that the city has been a refuge for those fleeing persecution for more than 100 years.

Hasaka was home to Assyrians -- and Chaldeans and Syriacs -- who fled Simele, Iraq, after a 1935 wholesale massacre of Christians when British forces pulled out of the area leaving these minoritiy groups vulnerable to the brutalities of Iraqi forces, Dawood said.

But Nineb Lamassu, an Assyrian reporter, reminded viewers of a BBC newscast this week about refugees who came to Hassaka, fleeing the 1915 massacres of Assyrians in Turkey because these Christians had made alliances with countries who were fighting facism.

"They were betrayed by their British allies and ... they were in Iraq and ... they were again betrayed ... and the first massacre in Iraq was committed against these Assyrian Christians and the survivors fled to Syria and these are the survivors," he said.

He said a similar betrayal took place this week.

Lamassu said Assyrian leaders had been warning United Nations and European authorities that a mass persecution such as the one that took place Feb. 24 was imminent, "demanding a safe haven" for the community of families from those villages that were attacked, "crying" and "expressing our concerns to no avail."

When asked who should be protecting these people, Lamassu answered, "mostly they are the responsibility of the western international government, especially the allied forces." Further, he said the Assyrian Christians are the responsibility of the British because the Assyrians at Kharbour (a group of villages in Hasaka), are the Assyrians that fled -- "the survivors of the genocide" of 1915.

AN ASSYRIAN PERSPECTIVE

Dawood said his grandparents were in the group of Assyrian Christians who fled to Iraq from Turkey in 1915. He was born in Baghdad and fled during the war with Iran in the 1970s. His father also fled Iraq.

"So basically we are on the run, over and over again, generation after generation -- three in my case --100 years on the run in 2015," Dawood said. "The persecution continues."

In light of the relentless pursuit of Christians and other religious minorities by ISIS, Dawood said it is heartbreaking to watch leaders who are apparently "waiting and waiting until somebody's head comes off and somebody in a cage gets burned" to respond to what they have already agree is "evil."

"Inaction will not help," he said. "It seems like the world listens to the powerful and the weak is suffering because someone is bullying and persecuting them."

ISIS, he said, "wants the platform and the headlines and the news."

As for the United States, "everyone is following America" and "we need someone else like Britain or France," someone, he said, who will step up if America won't and at least give them arms or training or lead them.

After all, Dawood pointed out, these mostly peaceful Assyrian Christians cannot fight Islamist terrorists with AK47s when they have tanks and other heavy military equipment snatched from Mosul, left behind after the American military pulled out of Iraq in 2012.

For the world, Dawood said if the powerful is allowed to take over the weak because of "their religious or ethnic differences, you will have a massacre like we have in Rwanda."

Too many bury their heads in the sand, believing these issues are political, but Dawood says that America as a "superpower" and other "superpowers" have a responsibility to step up.

"Somebody has to interfere and protect those people," he said. "They need ground troops. It's a joke otherwise."

The church can not afford to keep at a distance either, Dawood said because although people might think there are no personal consequences now, at some point the situation "will touch us all in one way or another," he said.

Eventually, ISIS will subdue the church, Dawood said, comparing the situation to World War II when Hitler "started gaining momentum and power."

"If no one said anything until [Hitler] subdued the church" what would have happened? Dawood asked. "If we don't do anything – with time, this will subdue the church."