Forces of ISIS have attacked Christian Assyrian villages in north-eastern Syria, in the region of Khabour in the Hassake governorate.
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, who heads a Christian aid program (CIPNA) in Dohuk, Iraq, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that he spoke by telephone to a prelate in Hassake city, where around 400 families have fled following the Feb. 23 assault of ISIS fighters.
Father Youkhana reported: “Bishop Mar Aprim Athniel [of the Assyrian Church of the East] reported that the local church and community hall are overloaded with people and that Church officials are now [sending] people to families in Hassake city.”
Reportedly, more than 100 local residents have been captured by ISIS and many others were trapped in their villages as the fighters advanced. At least two villages—Tal Shamiran and Tal Hermiz—were still surrounded by ISIS as of last night. The churches in both villages have already been torched.
Archimandrite Youkhana said: “The fight started Monday early morning Syrian time when ISIS opened a 425-mile long battle front from Tel Shamiram to Tel Hormizd. ISIS 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 contront the attackers.”
Father Youkhana reported that,” in general, ISIS was supported by Arab Sunni neighboring villages,” but added that “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 City.”
“There are no firm figures as to the numbers of the Christian families affected, but more than 600 families managed to flee. Most of them are in Hasseke and around 200 in Qamishly,” the cleric said.
Archimandrite Youkhana said that 50 families in Tel Shamiran, 26 families in Tel Gouran, 28 families in Tel Jezira, and 14 young people (12 male youth and two young women) who were defending Tel Hormiz had been seized by ISIS militants, who have separated the men from the women and children. He added: “Knowing the brutal barbaric record of IS with the captured, the destiny of those families is a major concern to us.”
However, said Father Youkhana, as of today, “with Kurdish troops joining the fight from other places—aided by Syrian army air strikes—it is believed that there will be no further ISIS advances.” There are a total of 35 Assyrian villages along the Khabur River.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)