MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : THE BURDEN OF CHRISTIANITY IN SYRIA
By Sylvain Mercadier – Rudaw – Posted 2019-12-01 19:33 GMT – Tel Tamar, Syria — The road to the northern Syrian city of Tel Tamar is long, dotted with grazing livestock under the watchful eye of young shepherds. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Asayish, the local security forces check the identity of whoever goes through this dangerous highway, one of the last connecting Tel Tamar to the major cities of Hasakah and Qamishli. At the entrance of the town, a queue of vehicle forms, awaiting a final and particularly thorough check from Asayish forces.
“The threat not only comes from the SNA (Syrian National Army); we are also preventing the infiltration of Islamic State (ISIS) militants into the town” explains one of the officers.
Turkish-backed proxies under the umbrella of the SNA, have been terrorizing nearby villages for over a month to create Turkey’s long awaited safe zone free of Kurdish forces.
Despite the ongoing conflict a few kilometers away, some life remains in the Christian town. A few shops are open in the streets of Tel Tamar and civilians wander the streets, albeit surrounded by armed military personnel.
The majority of the people we meet are internally displaced people (IDP) coming from other towns and villages taken by Turkish-backed forces. They took refuge further south and ended up here, only to have war follow them once again.
The only hospital in town is managed by the Kurdish Red Crescent. Its head, Dr. Hassan, has been working tirelessly to save lives, performing one emergency operation after another along with his dedicated staff.
He says that they will treat anyone who is in need.
“We are a non-partisan organization. Despite being on the SDF side, we have sworn an oath and are ready to heal the wounds of any human being that comes through the doors of our hospital, be them Turkish soldiers or their mercenaries, or even ISIS partisans,” he said.
He gives a long account of the injuries he has seen, mentioning the strong evidence pointing to the Turkish use of chemical weapons.
“It’s up to the international community to take responsibility and thoroughly investigate these accusations. We are ready to provide any assistance requested to fulfil this international and humanitarian duty” he adds.
Pauses in the fighting are ripped apart by intense bombing in the area, when dozens of wounded and the deceased arrive in an endless row of ambulances.
The surrounding villages are targeted on a daily basis by Turkish warplanes and drones.
Like many old settlements in the area, Tel Tamar is centered around an important hill, breaking the monotony of the otherwise flat terrain of Northern Syria. In Tell Tamar, the hill is used as a military lookout by the Natoro brigade, an Assyrian security force.
In the small office next to a water tower we find the head of the brigade, Robert Isho.
“The Assyrian community is threatened by the Turkish offensive. It’s the same system as ISIS,” he said gravely.
“There is no possible cohabitation with this army. There will inevitably be demographic engineering in the area and it will be the end of the Christian presence here” he claims.
Isho insists that the people of Northern Syria are all united against the ongoing threats.
Portraits of Assyrian martyrs fallen against ISIS in the previous battles hang side by side with those of Kurds and Muslim Arabs.
“We are all one people” he adds.
The number of Christians in the area has plummeted, however.
“There were around 20,000 Assyrians in the Khabour plain, scattered in 22 different villages. Since the ISIS attacks in 2014, this number has dropped to 1200. Most houses and churches have been desecrated, very few [residents] have returned,” he told us.
Solidarity between Khabour’s various communities is the only reason for their survival, he added.
As we leave, he invites us to go and visit the villages for ourselves.
“Our villages are down south, it’s safe for now. But you’ll see how our community has been devastated. If the Turks conquer Tel Tamar, it will the the coup de grace for us here”, he concludes.Tel Nasri is one of those closest to the town. In this small settlement, not one single house stands untouched. Traumatized by ISIS, most families fled, never to return.
In recent weeks, dozens of families from Sari Kani (Ras al Ayn) have been allowed to settle in the damaged houses, most of which do not have windows or doors.
“We are grateful to be here in safety,” said Ahmed, an Arab from Arishah, a multi-ethnic town between Tel Tamar and Sari Kani.He and his family moved in an old house whose cracked walls barely stand together. There are no doors or windows.
Asked how they will cope with the freezing temperatures about to strike the region, they remain silent.
There is no international assistance provided to the residents of Tel Nasri aside from that of the Kurdish Red Crescent, who bring food and equipment from time to time.
In the vicinity of the Khabour, a new camp is being built, getting ready to host thousands of families before the heavy rains hit.The United Nations has been unable to assist these efforts as they were not granted permission by Damascus to build a new camp. If Tel Tamar falls, this camp will be on the frontline. The IDPs housed here will flee once again, and the ancient Christian presence in North-Eastern Syria will come to an end.