Barnabas Fund 26 Feb 2015
Almost 300 Christians are being held by Islamic State (IS) fighters in the north-eastern Hassake region of Syria. The jihadists raided numerous Christian villages along the Khabur river in the early hours of 23 February, abducting those who did not manage to flee. More than 900 families have already fled to the cities of Hassake and Qamishli and are in desperate need of basic necessities for survival.
Most of those captured were taken from the village of Tel Shamiram in north-eastern Syria. No one from that village managed to escape and, including men, women and children, a total of 156 people were kidnapped from the village. A further 93 people from Tel Jazira, 23 from Tel Gouran, five from Tel Feytha and three from Qabir Shamiya are also among the captured.
Local residents overheard the militants confirm on wireless devices that they were holding “crusaders,” the term used by IS to describe Christians. The hostages are reported to be alive, although the men have been separated from the women and children. It is thought that they have been taken to IS-controlled Abdul-Aziz mountains.
At least four churches were torched during the raids. A car bomb exploded in Tel Tamar on Tuesday (24 February) and three mortars exploded in Tel Nasri, but no casualties were reported. A local Christian wrote to Barnabas urging Christians to pray for their desperate situation. “Everyone has begun to hate us, the Christians,” he wrote, “as if we were a spike in their throats.”
Control of the Hassake region of Syria would be strategically advantageous to IS, as it borders both Turkey and areas of Iraq already under its control. Thirty-five predominantly Christian villages line both sides of the Khabur river in north-eastern Syria. These villages are populated with Assyrian Christians who migrated there after surviving the Semele massacre in Iraq in August 1933. In that tragic incident, only one of many, which took place shortly after Iraq became a fully independent nation, an estimated 3,000 Assyrian Christians were slaughtered by Iraqi government forces.
Local Christian leaders have told Barnabas that they expect the numbers of displaced families arriving in Hassake and Qamishli to reach as high as 1,200. Almost all of the villages along the Khabur river have emptied since Monday (23 February). Not knowing where they are headed or if they will ever be able to return, many are taking refuge in church halls or relatives’ homes.
Mar Afram Athniel, bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, is determined to stay in the region and continue to help his people in their hour of need. Deeply saddened by the atrocities this week, he says: “In these difficult times we appeal to all organisations and the international community to help these innocent people who did not commit any crime. They are helpless.”
Barnabas has been supporting Christians in Hassake and Qamishli for many years. As a persecuted minority, Christians often struggle to support their families. Through the generosity of Barnabas supporters, we were able to build a school in both cities, and we have been helping to feed Christian families there for almost ten years.
Syrian Orthodox archbishop of Hassake, Metropolitan Eustathius Matta Roham, told Barnabas: “All Christians in Hassake and Qamishli are grateful to Barnabas Fund for their long time support, care and love…It was so kind of you at Barnabas Fund to be the first international organization helping these hopeless families…The families, who fled their villages, will not be able to go back there in the near future. One should know that there are houses which have been completely destroyed.”
There is now an urgent need for emergency supplies including bedding, heating, clothing, food, and basic hygiene kits for the hundreds of Christian families who have fled their villages in fear. Barnabas has sent an emergency grant of £52,000 to help 1,050 families: Will you help us provide these basic essentials for our brothers and sisters in Syria?
If you would like to help displaced Christians in Syria, please send a donation to our Middle East Fund to help Christians in Syria (project 00-1032).
- Pray that God will protect the Christians who have been taken so that none will be harmed.
- Pray that God will comfort the families who have fled their homes and that He will provide for their every need.
- Pray for local Barnabas partners who are working hard to care for the many suffering families who continue to arrive in Hassake and Qamishli.