(AINA) — On Tuesday, February 23 ISIS attacked 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river in the Hassaka province in northeast Syria (AINA 2015-02-23). At least 9 Assyrians fighters were killed defending their villages. Up to 373 Assyrians were captured. 3000 Assyrians fled from their villages and are now in shelters in Hasaka and Qamishli. None of the Assyrians want to return. This is what they have told their bishops.
Three weeks earlier, ISIS ordered Assyrians in the region of Hasaka to remove the crosses from their churches and to pay jizya (Christian poll tax), warning residents that if they failed to pay they would have to leave or else be killed (AINA 2015-02-03). The list of atrocities against Assyrians in Syria is very long; it includes murders, kidnappings and the destruction of cultural resources, including churches and ancient Assyrian historical artifacts.
In Iraq it has been the same. With the first church bombing on June 24, 2004 there began a relentless, low grade genocide (report) which culminated in the displacement of 200,000 Assyrians from the Nineveh Plain by ISIS (report). Where the population of Assyrians in Iraq was at 1.4 million in 2004, it has dwindled to 300,000 in 2015. Most fled to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey –and now these same refugees will be forced to flee from Syria, along with the Assyrians of Syria. ISIS has not only killed and displaced Assyrians in Syria and Iraq, it has destroyed the Assyrian cultural heritage. It has destroyed 118 churches in Iraq (report) and 6 in Syria. It has destroyed Assyrian archaeological sites and historical artifacts in Iraq and Syria (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).This is genocide — there is no other word for it. This is the erasure of a nation from the land which it has inhabited for 6764 years. Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide lays down the meaning of genocide: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
To this we can add the destruction of the cultural heritage of a nation, including the destruction of secular and religious institutions and historical and archaeological artifacts.
All of these acts have been committed against Assyrians in Syria and Iraq in the last ten years. It is ironic that the ISIS attacks on Assyrians in Syria is occurring in 2015, the centennial anniversary of the 1915 Turkish genocide of Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians, in which 750,000 Assyrians were killed (75%), 500,000 Pontic Greeks and 1.5 million Armenians. This is not a coincidence. ISIS is pretty savvy and is historically informed. When ISIS pushed into the Nineveh Plain in Iraq last year, forcing 200,000 Assyrians to flee their homes, they began their invasion on August 7, which is the official Assyrian Martyrs Day, a day on which each year Assyrians remember their fallen.
How should the civilized world react to this? When a group destroys a nation it destroys the cultural heritage of the civilized world. When the Taliban destroyed the 2,500 year-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, the civilized world lost. When ISIS destroyed the walls of Nineveh, the civilized world lost. When ISIS killed Yazidis, the civilized world lost. When ISIS killed Shiites the civilized world lost. When ISIS killed Assyrians the civilized world lost.
And now ISIS is destroying the very foundations of world civilization. It is in Mesopotamia where civilization as we know it began. Destroying Assyrian artifacts is ISIS’s message to the world, that it aims to eradicate the very basis of its civilization because it is not Islamic. There is no moral ambiguity in what is occurring — ISIS is evil and the source of this evil is Islam. The civilized world must find the courage to accept the force of its moral superiority and act on it. If it does not, the world will fall into shadow. There is a dark veil falling on the world and it is Islam as embodied by ISIS. Who has the courage to lift this veil?