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Half of Syria and Iraq’s Christians have left since 2011, says report

(World Watch Monitor) Three years to the day since the Islamic State group took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, a new report estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.

The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”.

“There is little incentive to return, with several interviewees saying the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”

In a policy paper released alongside the report, the three charities call on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria.

“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” the charities write.

They urge the EU to “advocate for the establishment of the mechanism through its contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian governments” and to provide funding, technical support and monitoring. The mechanism, the charities add, “should be transparent and inclusive, ensuring all key stakeholders at all levels (government, community leaders, civil society and the public) are represented adequately”.

Major findings

The report, ‘Understanding the recent movements of Christians leaving Syria and Iraq’, acknowledges the difficulty of producing definitive figures, as it estimates that the overall Christian population of Iraq has reduced from “well over 300,000” in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today – “many” of whom are now displaced internally. In Syria, meanwhile, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has “roughly halved”.

“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” the report notes. “While direct violence, such as the movements of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, was the tipping point for displacement, the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”

A greater number of Christians are thought to have left Syria, but only because the initial population was higher, according to the report, which adds that a greater proportion of Iraq’s Christians have left the country.

The Christians have emigrated via a range of routes, including resettlement programmes through churches, formal refugee registration and “illegal routes” – though the deaths of Christians trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have reportedly “dissuaded some”, while “the high price of these routes have made them unavailable for others”.

Lebanon has reportedly taken in the most Christians, while thousands more have resettled in Jordan and Turkey, and a smaller number in European countries such as Sweden and Germany. However, “recent policy changes, as well as living conditions, have made arrival or staying in many of these countries, such as Sweden, incredibly difficult”, the report concludes, adding: “There were reports of returns [home], but many expressed the sentiment that Christians have given up hope of returning.”

However, the charities note that “many” of those who remain “want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”

Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Issues Statement After Assassination Attempt

Patriarch Aphrem, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

Patriarch Aphrem, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

(AINA) — Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim of the Syriac Orthodox Church issued a statement on the assassination attempt on his life last week. On June 19, while the Patriarch was leading a commemoration service for the Turkish genocide of Assyrians in World War One, a suicide bomber attacked the service but was stopped by the Assyrian Sutoro military forces in Qamishli, Syria (AINA 2016-06-19).

Here is the text of the statement.

The Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
Damascus, Wednesday June 22, 2016After returning safely to the Patriarchate in Damascus following his pastoral visit to the city of Qamishly, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, offered prayers of thanksgiving and condemned the suicide bombing which took place during His Holiness’ visit. On Sunday June 19, 2016 following the celebration of the feast of the Pentecost and after the inauguration of a monument for the Syriac Genocide Sayfo which His Holiness presided over, the faithful were gathered inside the auditorium of St. Gabriel School to celebrate the 101st annual Sayfo commemoration when a suicide bomber set himself off a short distance from the place. Two members of the Sutoro Protection Units fell martyrs and several were injured. This terroristic act is planned and executed by people who want to spread hatred and create division among the people of the region. Such acts cause great suffering to the people and aim at destroying the unity of our beloved country Syria.

His Holiness gives thanks to God Almighty for protecting him and all the others who participated in the said event, by His divine care.

He prays for the souls of the martyrs, especially the two young people who lost their lives as a result of this act of terrorism, and offers condolences to their families. He likewise prays for the quick recovery of the injured. His Holiness expresses his thanks and gratitude to their Holinesses and Beatitudes the Patriarchs of the sister churches, as well as different governments and community leaders who offered their sympathies and prayers for His Holiness’ safety by calling or writing. He, likewise, thanks the hierarchy, members of the clergy, and the entire faithful of the church who offered their prayers and expressed their concerns through phone calls, emails or text messages.

His Holiness prays the Lord to bless Syria with peace and security so that these difficult times come to an end and life returns to normal in this dear country Syria.

Patriarchs of Antioch remember the two Bishops kidnapped: “We do not have the support of the ‘giants’. Our only hope is in the Lord”

he Christian community in Syria "has not forgotten" its bishops, because "every time we hold a joint prayer meeting we talk about them, we think of them."

he Christian community in Syria “has not forgotten” its bishops, because “every time we hold a joint prayer meeting we talk about them, we think of them.”

(Agenzia Fides) – Three years since the disappearance of 2 Metropolitan Bishops of Aleppo – Syrian Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Boulos Yazigi – the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Mar Ignatius Aphrem II, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Yohanna X, remember the story of the two confreres kidnapped near Aleppo on April 22, 2013 in a long and intense message addressed to their “beloved spiritual children”, to the Syrians and to all men.

The case of the two Bishops – says the message kidnapped, sent to Agenzia Fides – is “a miniature of the great human suffering coming from terrorism: massacres, abductions, deracination, takfir, and explosions”. But if the intention of the kidnapping was to spread terror among the baptized, the two Patriarchs warn that the operation failed: “We Christians”, reads the document “are the descendants of those who, two thousand years ago, put on the name of Christ in this particular land. (…). We are no giants, and we do not have the support of the “giants””, but “we preserve our identity as Antiochian Easterners, through whatever difficulties or tribulations”. “In this troubled path – underline the two Patriarchs – we have spared no effort, but our main and only hope is in God”.

The words of the Primates of the two Churches of the East sweep away all the maneuvers of those who seek to exploit the suffering of Christians in the Middle East: “We shall continue to live in this East, ringing our bells, building our churches, and lifting up our Crosses. And the arm that will be extended to these Crosses or bells will be twisted by our Muslim brethren from all our national spectra”, says the long patriarchal text, where it repeats that the followers of Islam “are suffering like us from the bitterness of blind terrorism and takfir”, defined as “a condemned intruder” to our past and present Christian-Muslim relationships. The sufferings of the Eastern Christian are read in the light of salvation promised by Christ: “Despite the horror of the situation and its severity” – write the Patriarchs Mar Aphrem and Boulos – “we throw all this on the way of Golgotha of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cover all the darkness of this age with the light of the Virgin’s eyes, venerated by both Christians and Muslims, whom we implore to bring back to us all kidnapped people, our brother bishops of Aleppo, along with the abducted priests”.

In the document, the two Patriarchs highlight the way in which the lives of Christians in the Middle East are also reported in the global media debate. “We” the message reads “were not a minority, and will never be”. For those “who are keen about the “minorities,” and those who are opening wide the doors to receive the various spectra of Syrians, the two Patriarchs repeat that it is more fitting for them to seek a resolution, saving people from the burden of the perilous sea travel and ship wreckage.
“We appreciate every humanitarian effort of governments or organizations. However, insist the two Patriarchs, we cannot be protected through facilitating the migration of refugees. We are not petitioning for protection. Rather, we are seeking peace”. A peace that “is not founded on the notions of minorities and majorities, but is based on coexistence, citizenship and moderate religious discourse. Peace does not come by enforcing economic blockades and foreign economic sanctions that only hurt the homeless children and the poor people, those people who became cheap commodities for the arms’ market, used according to countries’ interests”.

Returning to the case of the Bishops kidnapped, in the final part of the document, the two Patriarchs thank the international community for the many public expressions of solidarity received, but invite all, starting with “decision-maker countries”, to replace “statements of condemnation and promises” with concrete initiatives that document in facts good intentions.
The two Patriarchs invite all their brothers in faith to also look at their own suffering in the light of the Risen Christ, the one who can “comfort the heart of our children, and establish peace in the land of peace. This land of the East”, said the statement “is bleeding now, but no doubt will rise again. We are the children of the Resurrection, and the Light”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 22/04/2016)

ISIS Release 22 Assyrian Hostages in Syria

Bishop Aprim with the Assyrian hostages from Khabur who were released today by ISIS. Photo: AINA

Bishop Aprim with the Assyrian hostages from Khabur who were released today by ISIS. Photo: AINA

(AINA) — ISIS today released 22 Assyrian hostages in Syria. 16 of the hostages were captured on February 23 when ISIS attacked the 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river in the Hasaka province. ISIS captured 253 in the initial attack and drove 3,000 Assyrians from their villages. The other 6 hostages who were released were captured in the town of Qaryatain on August 6, 2015, when ISIS captured the town (AINA 2015-08-07).

The group of released hostages was comprised of women and children.

ISIS executed three of the Khabur hostages on September 23 (AINA 2015-10-08). The number of Assyrians from Khabur still being held is now 73.

With the release of 6 Assyrians from Qaryatain ISIS is now holding 179 Assyrians from that town.

Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria By ISIS and Other Muslim Groups

ISIS has released Assyrians from Khabur on the following dates:

  • January 29, 2016: 16 released
  • January 14, 2016: 16 released
  • December 25: 25 released
  • December 9: 25 released
  • November 24: 10 released
  • November 7: 37 released
  • August 11: 22 released
  • June 16: Francois Sawa released
  • May 26: two elderly women released, Ramziyya Rehana (80) from Tel Jazira and Yoniyya Kanoon (70) from Tel Shamiran
  • March 3: Two Assyrians from Tel Shamiram were released, Yatroun Marko and his wife Wardiyya Yonan. Two Assyrians from Tel Goran were released, 6 year-old Mariana Mirza and her father’s aunt, Bobo Mirza.
  • March 1: 19 Assyrians Released, all from the village of Tel Goran
The Assyrian hostages from Qaryatain who were released today by ISIS. Photo:AINA

The Assyrian hostages from Qaryatain who were released today by ISIS. Photo:AINA

ISIS Has released Assyrians from Qaryatain on the following dates:

  • January 29, 2016: 6 released
  • October 14, 2016: 50 released
  • September 4, 2015: 15 released

The following are the names of the hostages released from Khabur:

  1. Sabina Hawil Youkhana
  2. Ramina Hawil Youkhana
  3. Lewis Hawil Youkhana
  4. Christine Joseph Lazar
  5. Bashara Joseph Lazar
  6. Katrine Joseph Lazar
  7. Peter Joseph Lazar
  8. Ilyan Saeed Youkhana
  9. AlmasSaeed Youkhana
  10. Lewis Saeed Youkhana
  11. Sargon Ninus Sarkis
  12. Yosip Ninus Sarkis
  13. Valentina Paulus Odisho
  14. Marganta Yushiya Adam
  15. Somer Shawil Elisha

Please pray for Christians in Syria.

Assyrians Demonstrate Against Kurdish Aggression Against Christians in Syria

Qamishli

Qamishli, a town in northeastern Syria on the border with Turkey

On January 17 in Stockholm, Assyrians held a demonstration against the Kurdish PYD party and its armed wing the YPG in Syria. It was organized by the Assyrian Federation of Sweden and more than 200 Assyrians braved the freezing cold to join the rally.

The YPG has known ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the U.S. designated a Marxist terrorist group. The Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG) is the military arm of the Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat (PYD), the Syrian affiliate of the PKK.  Most of the YPG commanders and fighters are Qandil-Kurds, i.e. PKK.

The Obama administration acknowledge the PKK and YPG have links and coordinate with each other in the fight against Islamic State, but they said the U.S. continues to formally shun the PKK while dealing directly with YPG.

The PKK says its affiliates—Syria’s YPG and groups called the PJAK in Iran and the HPG in Iraq—are separate but closely linked. PKK fighters and some analysts say they are one and the same.

“It’s all PKK but different branches,” Ms. Ruken said, clad in fatigues in her encampment atop Sinjar Mountain this spring as a battle with Islamic State fighters raged less than a mile away at the mountain’s base. “Sometimes I’m a PKK, sometimes I’m a PJAK, sometimes I’m a YPG. It doesn’t really matter. They are all members of the PKK.” source

In the early hours of Tuesday, January 12th, members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) conducted a large attack (AINA 2016-01-12) on Assyrian checkpoints that surround Al-Wusta, an Assyrian neighborhood in the center of city of Qamishli, using more than 30 vehicles and hundreds of heavily armed Kurdish fighters against the Assyrian Gozarto Protection Forces. The fighting lasted for at least three hours and ended after the Kurds called upon a Syrian government representative to mediate a cease-fire. One Assyrian was killed and two injured; three Kurds were killed.

Qamishli is located in the Hasaka province, in northeast Syria.

The population of the province of Hasaka is nearly equally divided between Assyrians, Arabs and Kurds. The city of Qamishli was almost entirely Assyrian until the early 1980s and was established by Assyrian survivors of the genocide of 1915 perpetrated by Ottoman Turks against the Christian populations of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians. At that time many Kurdish clans acted as the henchman of the Ottoman government. It is natural that the recent developments in Qamishli recall those memories of Christians, who do not trust Kurdish expansionism and self-declared autonomy and control over the region.

YPG’s latest attacks on Assyrians came after their earlier attacks on Turkmen, Arabs and other Kurdish groups not willing to collaborate with them. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both recently documented massive human rights violations by the YPG, a Syrian PKK offshoot, including forced evictions and the destruction of homes and property of non-Kurdish populations in regions under its control (AINA 2015-11-10).

Syrian Christians (Assyrians) Hold Combined Funeral For Martryed Killed By ISIS Bombing

Funeral for the 4 Assyrians killed by the ISIS triple suicide bombing in Tel Tamar, Syria. (AINA)

Funeral for the 4 Assyrians killed by the ISIS triple suicide bombing in Tel Tamar, Syria. (AINA)

Dec 10, 2015: (Voice of the Persecuted)  Three car bombs exploded in the Assyrian town of Tel Tamar in the Hassaka province of Syria on Thursday. The blast killed 50-60 people and wounded 100. At least 4 Assyrians were killed. According to the AINA, the attacks were in heavily populated areas, including a marketplace and near a hospital, leading to the massive civilian toll. ISIS has since confirmed its responsibility for the bombs saying they targeted Kurdish bases, using three trucks packed full of explosives as bombs. Earlier in the week it was reported that ISIS had advanced onto hills overlooking the town. Often they will launch bomb attacks against a town to weaken the morale of defending forces and overwhelm the limited medical facilities before fighting begins.

Tel Tamar is one of the 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river captured by ISIS in February and took 253 hostages. 120 have been released, 3 executed, but 120 are still being held. ISIS had destroyed all the churches in the villages, looted and razed homes—a majority remain uninhabitable. ISIS had warned released hostages not to return to their villages or they will be killed. The villages are now liberated, but the majority of 3,000 Assyrians who lived there have not returned. Most have fled to Hasaka and Lebanon, others to Germany, Australia and Sweden.

khaburmap

Christians held a combined funeral in Tel Tamar, Syria for the 4 Assyrians who were killed by the triple ISIS suicide bombings. The deceased Assyrians have been identified as George Ballo, Slivo Isaac, Milia Tolo and Hisham Bato.

Please pray for the those who, a few short weeks before Christmas, are intensely grieving. Pray for Christians who remain and targeted by this murderous group. Pray they will find peace while seeking refuge in other countries. Many are being overlooked in the overwhelming refugee crisis. Some have even faced further persecution by Muslims in refugee camps and centers. Pray for peace in the Middle East.

 

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SYRIA – 25 Christian hostages of the Khabur valley have been released by jihadists

syria-map

(Agenzia Fides) – On Wednesday, December 9 the jihadists affiliated to the self-styled Islamic State (Daesh) released other 25 Assyrian Christians, who were part of the large group of hostages kidnapped by them on 23 February, when the jihadi militias had unleashed an offensive against the predominantly Christian Assyrian villages scattered along the valley of the river Khabur, in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassake. According to reports from local sources, and re-launched by the Assyrian International News Agengy (Aina), the group of hostages freed includes men, boys and two children under ten years of age, who after their release reached the town of Tel Tamar.

More than 250 Assyrian Christians of the valley of Khabur were taken hostage by jihadists in February. Since then several groups of prisoners have been released. Last time, on November 24, 10 Assyrian Christians from Khabur were released by Daesh. At the moment, there are roughly 130 hostages of that group who still remain in the hands of the jihadists of the Islamic State. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 10/12/2015)

AUSTRALIA – Islamic State Jihadists have hacked a Syriac Catholic parish website

(Agenzia Fides) – Islamic State (IS) jihadists have hacked the website of Our Lady of Mercy Syriac Catholic Church, posting videos of Islamic State terrorists beheading, shooting and burning victims alive and threatening a war against infidels until “Rome” is conquered.

Members are mostly people from Iraq and Syria and it has been involved in providing shelter for Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have fled the violence in the region. The attack has caused shock and bitterness among the faithful of the parish community, who nonetheless responded vigorously to the atrocious intimidation.

“Whatever happens, the church posted on its Facebook page, our churches remain holy and we will always remain faithful praying on our knees”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 09/12/2015)

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