As fighting intensifies to retake areas of north-eastern Syria from the so-called Islamic State (IS), the media spotlight shows the complexity of the military picture.
The Khabur River region in Syria’s Hasakah province was attacked by IS in February 2015. Thirty-five Assyrian villages were emptied; days later IS kidnapped and held over 200 Assyrians hostages. They were mostly released by Islamic State after ransoms were paid, though some remain captive.
Caught between the Syrian Army and the Kurdish militias (both fighting IS), villages such as Tel Nasri and Tel Goran were eventually occupied by Kurdish YPG militias in 2015 – with the expectation that the Kurds were there temporarily for training, and to guard against IS re-taking them. Now Assyrian sources have said their villages are being “occupied” by the Kurdish forces.
Two weeks ago, a senior Syrian Catholic figure was quoted as saying Kurdish militias were carrying out acts of violence and intimidation against Assyrian Christians in Hasakah, the main city in the north-eastern province of the same name – and where the Khabur villages are.
In recent days the YPG has put up signs in different places in the villages, warning the area is “dangerous and mined”. Assyria TV called this “a trick” to scare Assyrians and justify occupation.
The empty villages fell into the control of the Kurdish YPG, and were “systematically looted by Kurdish groups”, Assyria TV added.
Meanwhile, a synod last week of Chaldean Catholic bishops from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the US, Canada and Australia, urged liberation of areas seized by IS and for the displaced to be able to return home. Chaldeans were among the approximately 120,000 Christians uprooted when IS seized Mosul and the Nineveh Plain in Syria’s neighbour, Iraq, during the summer of 2014.
Assyrians and Chaldeans are among Syria and Iraq’s earliest inhabitants. As ethnic Christians since the early centuries of the faith, they have suffered successive persecutions, most recently by IS and preceding Islamic groups active in a troubled Iraq, and later Syria, since 2003 and 2011, respectively.