The clock is ticking for Syriacs again

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Since Feb. 23, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been launching attacks against 35 Syriac villages located near or on the Syrian side of the borders between Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Rare accounts in the ANF and T24 media outlets provide information about ISIL’s intentions and movements, as the group counters the efforts of the Syrian Kurdish forces. A statement made by the Turabdin Solidarity Committee (Solidaritattsgruppe), notes that by attempting to capture a region near the border with Turkey, ISIL seeks revenge for their defeat in Kobani as well as an advantageous transit route.
According to these reports, approximately 300 Syriacs have been captured by ISIL, including 30 or so guards who were defending villages. The result is always the same: Men are slaughtered while women and children are used as slaves or sold. The Turabdin Solidarity Committee and the Mesopotamia Syriac, Chaldean, Assyrian, Aramean Solidarity Association report that 12 people have been killed, four churches have been burned and roughly 3,000 Syriacs have had to flee to the towns of al-Hasakah and Qamishli.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, Syrian Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo complained that Turkey does not allow Syriacs who are stuck in al-Hasakah and Qamishli to seek refuge. According to reports from the region, a big trench was dug on the Turkish side of the border in an apparent effort to prevent crossing in either direction. Thus, the Syriacs cannot flee to Turkey, and Turkey cannot send aid. The Turkish government refrained from condemning the ISIL attacks on Syriacs, as it did during the attacks on Sinjar and Kobani. Some argue that the government indirectly supports these attacks by opening the dam shutters of the Khabur River, putting Syriacs in a difficult position. As for Turkish media outlets, they, as usual, are disinterested in the Syriacs’ plight.
Syriacs are no foreigners to Turkey. Hakkari and ??rnak provinces are the original homelands of those currently under heavy attack, people who have been oppressed for at least a century. Persecution of Syriacs began when the Kurdish tribes moved from the north to the southeastern area of Tur Abdin in the mid-19th century. This move combined with violent Islamic nation-building to provide a hostile environment to the area’s Christians. To compound matters, ?stanbul supported operations to seize control of the predominantly Syriac lands between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The Christian inhabitants were deliberately marginalized and alienated by the policies of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), founded in 1889. The climax of the persecution came during the 1915 genocide when 60 percent of the Ottoman Christian population was annihilated. There was simply no room for these Christians in the emerging nation.

Contrary to the official account, exclusion and oppression of Christians persisted during the Republican era. Syriacs and other Christian groups were never treated as full citizens. Their schools were shut in 1928 and the Syriac Patriarchate was forced to relocate to Homs in 1932. The new regime violently suppressed riots, starting with the 1924 Syriac/Nestorian riot in Hakkari, and to this day there are no Syriacs or Christians left in the province. They first moved to Simele in Iraq, where they were subjected to violence by Arab Muslims in 1933. They later moved to Syria and settled along the Khabur River. Today their grandchildren are again under attack.
Syriacs and other followers of Eastern Christianity were first eliminated in Turkey. Now the same pattern is repeating itself in Iraq and Syria.