On Monday, Bishop Yatron Koliana of the Assyrian Church of the East in Lebanon said that over 15,000 Assyrian Christian families remaining in Syria are at risk from the current crisis. On Friday, ISIL jihadists abducted 230 Assyrian Christians in Homs Governate during an offensive to seize Quaryatayn, in a reprise of a similar kidnapping earlier this year. Bishop Yatron told RIA Novosti, “My personal sources say there are about 15,000 families left in Syria. Of course, they don’t live in the villages captured by militants, but they were able to move temporarily to nearby towns. Resettled families still face uncertainty, but the estimated 3,500-strong Assyrian diaspora in Hasakah, Qamishi, and Tall Tamr is able to accommodate an estimated 1,500 internally displaced families”. He added that over 550 Christian refugees have received shelter in Lebanon since March before the Lebanese government banned refugee entrance in May. An agreement between the church and the Lebanese government allows Assyrian Christians passage into Lebanon provided they display the needed documentation. Bishop Yatron emphasised the Assyrians’ desire to return to their homeland, but said their security largely depends on “strong countries that in one way or another affect the Syrian crisis. We very much hope that countries such as Russia and the USA will hear our call for help from their Christian brothers in the Middle East”.
The latest abductions follow a similar attack on Assyrian villages in Hasakah Governate in late February and early March, when IS militants took over 250 Christians captive. They killed dozens of the inhabitants and looted their homes and churches. Religious leaders in Lebanon and the Vatican classified the acts as genocide. Assyrians are an ethnic group whose historic home lies in southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and northeastern Syria, and are amongst the first groups to adopt Christianity. Syrian government forces are in the fourth year of a military standoff with several independence and extremist groups, including IS and the al-Nusra Front.
10 August 2015