ISIS to Freed Assyrian Hostages: Leave Syria or Die

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AP Photo/Militant Website, File
by Mary Chastain
An Assyrian hostage released by the Islamic State told the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) that the group has prohibited them from returning to their homes despite setting them “free.” The terrorist group kidnapped over 300 Assyrians in Syria the last week of February.

The terrorist group ransacked 35 Assyrian villages along the Khabur river in the Hasaka province. The man, only known as Robert, lived in one of the villages. He told AINA guards protect the village, but they left around 4AM.

“ISIS entered the village at 5 A.M. and knocked on our doors and awoke us,” he explained. “They rounded us up, everyone in the village, and placed us in a small room. On the other [north] side of the river there were Kurdish and Assyrian fighters, and we could hear exchange of fire between them and ISIS.”

The Assyrians stayed in the room for three hours until the fighting stopped. The Islamic State then shoved them in a car and transported them to Abdul Aziz Mountain. Robert said there twenty-one people with him, seventeen men and four women. After they arrived at the mountain, the jihadists forced the people into small rooms. He could not name the men who addressed them, but said “bearded people spoke” and asked the Assyrians to convert to Islam. Everyone the hostages met asked them to convert.

The hostages spent the night at the mountain. The next say, militants drove them four hours into the mountains towards Tur Abdin, an Assyrian town in Turkey. Hostages were placed in a few homes for five days. Once again, the jihadists only talked about converting to Islam:

AINA: When you arrived there what did ISIS say and do?

Robert: They kept pressuring us to convert to Islam, it was their constant focus. But we were not mistreated.

AINA: When ISIS asked you to convert to Islam, what was your answer?

Robert: We said we would not convert. They said you must then pay the jizya [a Christian poll tax] or leave the country. That was the option given to us. We said we would pay the jizya but we would not convert.

AINA: How much was the jizya?

Robert: They said this time they would not collect the jizya because we had not fought against them. They said that they would release us on condition that we not return to our village. They said if we returned and they captured us again they would kill us without any other option, they would behead the men and enslave the women.

AINA: Did anything else happened while you were there?

Robert: No. We were provided with all necessities — food, water, bathing facilities. They brought us everything.

On the day they were released, the militants told the Assyrians they cannot stay in the country. If the Islamic State captured any of them again, they were told, they would die. A hired car driven by a non-Islamic State member drove the hostages back to the Hasaka province. Robert said the people were scared, but very happy “to see the church of St. Mary full and all the people there.” They will not be allowed to stay there, however, and Robert claimed the Assyrians were on their way to Lebanon.

The Assyrians date back to ancient Mesopotamia, which includes Syria, over 4,000 years ago. They faced discrimination throughout their entire history, which still causes them “to flee and seek refuge.” Assyrians make up five percent of the population in Syria, but over 50,000 fled to Lebanon since 2011.

“How can Syria be Syria without the Assyrians?” Osama Edward, founder of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told CNN. “We gave the country our name.”