Assyrian Church Leader After ISIS Abductions: ‘We Only Have the Almighty Left to Protect Us’
The Vice President of the Assyrian Church in Lebanon, Father Yatroun Colliana, lamented the plight of his coreligionists in neighboring Syria following Monday’s Islamic State (ISIS) onslaught against Assyrian Christian villages in the country. His comments were made in an exclusive interview with Lebanese Daily An-Nahar.
Father Colliana noted that, “ISIS terrorists carried out this attack against these Assyrian villages, and the number of our people still there in the area is somewhere between seven and ten thousand people. The rest fled to Lebanon, or Iraq or other countries. At the very least, we know that our families face great dangers, and they are now threatened with death, or kidnapping or displacement.”
At dawn on Monday, the extremist group’s fighters swept through the Assyrian villages nestled along the banks of the Khabur River, which is located near the town of Tal Tamr, in Syria’s Al-Hasakah province.
Father Colliana said that that approximately 100 young men and women were kidnapped by ISIS, a number that has been confirmed by a few human rights groups. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported on the abductions based on information from a network of activists inside Syria, put the number of the Assyrians being held by ISIS at 90. Nuri Kino, of the group A Demand For Action, which focuses on religious minorities in the Middle East, said that, based on conversations with villagers who escaped the onslaught, ISIS had taken 70 to 100 Assyrians captive.
According to both groups, most of the captives came from the village of Tal Shamirun, some 50 miles southwest of the province’s capital Qamishli.
Father Colliana said that, “the fighters entered the town of Tal Shamriun and took it over. The popular Assyrian and Kurdish committees were carrying out the defense of these towns as much as they could, but they could not repel these groups of ISIS fighters which were equipped with modern weapons. Meanwhile, the warplanes of the coalition were hovering in the airspace above the area without targeting ISIS locations or their groupings, as if nothing were happening.”
Naharnet reported that coalition forces had indeed bombed ISIS targets, killing 14 of the group’s fighters. However, the town still fell.
Father Colliana said that, “the problem is that this danger still threatens our people, meanwhile the world stands by silently watching. We are asking Iraqi officials to open up the borders, at least to let women and children escape.”
Colliana ended by saying, in desperation, that “we only have the Almighty left to protect us.”