Confirmed to Fides by Syrian-Catholic Archbishop of Hassaké-Nisibi, Jacques Behnan Hindo,. “The terrorists first attacked the village of Tel Tamar, – said the Archbishop, then they took Tel Shamiran and all the many smaller villages as far as Tel Hermuz, where they set fire to everything. In Tel Hormuz and at Tel Shamiran they took dozens of hostages, with the intention perhaps of using them for obtaining a ransom or for an exchange of prisoners.
According to Archbishop Hindo, this jihadist attack brought to light deplorable conduct on the part of other persons: “I wish to say quite clearly – the archbishop affirms – that we have the feeling of Christians into the hands of those Daesh (Arabic acronym or nickname for Isis militia: editor’s note). Yesterday American bombers flew over the area several times, but without taking action. We have a hundred Assyrian families who have taken refuge in Hassakè, but they have received no assistance either from the Red Crescent or from Syrian government aid workers, perhaps because they are Christians. The UN high commission for Refugees is nowhere to be seen”.
Along the banks of the River Khabur, perennial affluent of the Euphrates, there more than 30 Christian villages established in the 1930s, a safe haven for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians fleeing Iraq and the massacres perpetrated by the Iraqi army at that time. These villages were flourishing, each with a population of thousands, with churches and active communities running schools and social initiatives. But with the onset of war most had become empty and some were more like ghost towns. Tel Hormuz, which before the war counted some 4 thousand inhabitants, had dwindled in recent months to less than three hundred.
WCA Press Release
On Monday morning, 23 February, ISIS attacked the largely Aramean Christian villages of Tel Hormuz, Tel Shamiram, Tel Riman, Tel Nasra, al-Agibash, Toma Yalda and al-Hauz in the western countryside of the Hasakah province in north-eastern Syria. ISIS massacred a number of Arameans, took hundreds of women and children captive, burned dozens of houses and torched one of Syria’s ancient churches in the village of Tel Hormuz.
Following the attack at approximately 4.30 a.m., Aramean Christian and Kurdish Muslim defense forces mobilized themselves to withstand a further ISIS onslaught and to attempt to liberate the fallen villages. In the process, they seized a number of terrorists, which ISIS now demands to exchange with the over 100 Aramean men taken hostage in the villages, threatening to kill them if this demand is not met.
Given the fierce movement of ISIS fighters from their self-proclaimed capital, Raqqah, the Syrian army is helping the Christian and Kurdish villages along the Khabur River, nearby the large village of Tel Tamar. Recently, the fighting flared up in this area as the inhabitants of these Aramean villages have continued to observe ISIS terrorists encroaching further and further onto their lands.
Locals believe that the next step of ISIS is to take down the strategically important village of Tel Tamar, which houses over 10.000 Arameans and is close to Ras al-Ayn. ISIS would thus create a doorway towards the Turkish border that could facilitate the procurement of both weapons and mercenaries through Turkey into Syria. As ISIS moved into the region, residents of the impacted Khabur River area claimed to have seen fighter jets of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition flying over the countryside. Unfortunately, this did not prevent the massive attack on the Aramean Christian population as reports suggest that the terrorists were not attacked at all by the US-led coalition.
In the last decade, similar genocidal attacks against the Aramean people have occurred in Syria and Iraq. They are easy targets in their homeland, where they suffer from killings, rapes, pillaging, kidnappings and expulsions. Most of their ancestral lands have already been emptied. Soon there will be very few Aramean Christians left in Syria and Iraq. Just today, again hundreds of Arameans from neighboring areas of the Khabur area were evacuated by buses to safer places in the region.
Johny Messo, the President of the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”), expresses his deep concerns about the ongoing situation: “For years we have called upon the UN Member States to speak up against these atrocity crimes, and to prevent new ones from taking place. Today we find ourselves once again speechless considering their deafening silence and indifference towards the Aramean people. We demand from politicians to raise their moral voice, to investigate these ongoing crimes against humanity and to do something, anything, to break this wall of silence.”
It is noteworthy that the Aramean victims of the targeted Syrian Khabur River villages are members of the ‘Nestorian’ Church which, since 1976, has been named the Assyrian Church of the East. After the massacres by the Turks and Kurds in the early decades of the last century, many tens of thousands of Aramean Christians of different churches were forced to escape from their homes in Southeast Turkey to Northeast Syria.
Until the war started, the Christians constituted 10% (2,3 million) of Syria’s national population. Hundreds of thousands of Arameans have already fled their war-torn country. The Aramean people have retained their 3,000-year old Aramaic mother tongue, which is widely known as the language of Jesus, and they are indigenous to Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. However, in none of these countries they are officially recognized as a distinct people where they consequently continue to struggle for recognition and survival. Therefore, your voice and support is very much needed.