By Nina Shea*
The Islamist genocide — and there can be no doubt that it is genocide, despite world silence – of the Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans, and other defenseless ethno-religious minorities of Syria and Iraq continues. The killing of these peoples is deliberate and brutal and is rooted in religious hatred of the “infidel.” It is meted out in sudden violent executions, mass deportations, and the gradual, methodical destruction of their civilizations.
Washington is blind to this genocide that occurs alongside, but is separate from, a sectarian Muslim power struggle. It has failed to defend them militarily. Now it is failing to provide humanitarian help in the only manner left: resettling the survivors out of harm’s way, in countries where they will be able to rebuild their families and preserve their unique ancient cultures without fear. Rescue is the very minimum we can do to help these victims of genocide.
Yesterday, we learned that three Christians captured from Assyrian villages in Syria last February were executed by ISIS on September 23 in a desert area, somewhere in the “Caliphate,” and that possibly hundreds of other murders will follow. After the jihadist’ demands for $10 million in ransom money were not met, the three Christian men were murdered with a single shot to the back of each head as they were lined up, on their knees, garbed in orange jumpsuits. In its video of this execution, ISIS threatens to kill the 202 remaining Christian hostages from the February raid. It is probably not a coincidence that September 23 was the Muslim commemoration of the “Feast of Sacrifice” (Eid al-Adha).
In the video, which was broadcast on Lebanese television on Wednesday, each victim first identifies himself as an Assyrian Christian, and then states his name, year of birth, and home village:
“I am Assyrian Christian Ashur Abraham, from the village of Tel Tamar, Jazira.”
“I am Assyrian Christian Basam Essa Michael, born in 1976, from the village of Tel Shamiram, Tel Tamar.”
“I am Assyrian Christian Abdulmasih Enwiya, born in 1997, from the village of Jazira district of Tel Tamar.”
Three militants in black masks then appear behind the kneeling Christians and raise their guns to administer the point-blank shots. The Christians tumble forward, dead.
The video next shows three other Christian men on their knees behind the bodies of the three just killed. The new group of prisoners repeat the pattern, first stating their ethnic and religious identities and then their names and home villages.
“I am Assyrian Christian Zaya George Elia, born in 1988, from the village of Shameran District of Tel Tamar.”
“I am Assyrian Christian William Youhana Melham District of Tel Tamar, village of Tel Shameran, born in 1964.”
“I am Assyrian Christian Marden Tamraz Tamraz, born in 1966, village of Tel Jazira.”
The last to speak points to the three bodies before them and states, “We are here and there are dozens of us. Our fate is the same as these. If you do not take proper procedure for our release, we realize the inevitable fate.”
These victims were from the string of 35 Assyrian Christian villages along the strategic Khabour river valley in Hassake. ISIS militants, in a convoy of 40 pickup trucks, ISIS’s trademark vehicles, captured this undefended area between its strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul after being flushed out of nearby Kobani last winter. Kobani was a highly touted Coalition victory against ISIS. Perhaps the doctoring of military assessments at CentCom explains why less is said about the linked strategic failure in the Khabour river valley. No American airstrikes against the offensive there were made until after the villages had been taken and over 200 of their residents kidnapped, and then only after a campaign was launched by Christian activists.
On October 1, the grim details emerged of twelve other Christians murdered, this time explicitly for refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. Christian Aid Mission of Charlottesville, Va., received eyewitness reports from relatives of the victims that, outside Aleppo on August 28, ISIS militants crucified a twelve-year old Christian boy and his Syrian missionary father, along with two other men with the ministry. “All were badly brutalized and then crucified,” the Protestant ministry director said. The boy had his fingertips cut off, in an attempt to force his father to convert to Islam. Their bodies were left hanging on the crosses for two days, under signs reading “infidels.”
In a separate incident on the same day, ISIS militants publicly raped two Christian women, ages 29 and 33, in front of a crowd summoned by the jihadis, and then beheaded them, along with six men, when they refused to convert to Islam. “Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord’s prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus,” the ministry director, who had baptized some of the victims, said. According to the witnesses, “One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!’” Their bodies were then crucified.
Meanwhile, over 2,000 Yazidi women and girls remain sexually enslaved by ISIS, and some are now pregnant, while others have been forced to undergo abortions. Several reports have already described the horrors they suffer. In a new development, a young women who escaped, with the pseudonym Bazi, recently told CNN of her enslavement and repeated rapes by an American jihadi with ISIS. Said to be a former teacher in the United States, he now goes by the name of Abu Abdullah Al Amriki.
Bazi, who visited Washington to testify before Congress, related: “Before raping me, he would pray for like fifteen minutes or half an hour. And after that, even if it was 2 a.m., 3 a.m., after raping me, he would go take a shower and pray again.”
Also visiting Washington this week is Iraqi parliamentarian Vian Dakhil, whose emotional speech in August 2014 about the ISIS onslaught against her Yazidi people riveted world attention and prompted President Obama to order airstrikes to help the Yazidis besieged on Sinjar mountain. She told Politico of a ghastly incident in which a mother was unknowingly fed her own son to eat, and of more rapes and abuses.
Dakhil says the Yazidis feel abandoned by Washington and the world. Iraqi Christian and Mandean representatives have recently said the same to me. Many of these peoples are desperate to leave the region. They do not want to leave to seek economic opportunities, or even to escape the wartime deprivations, but to save their lives and the lives of their children. They are not being targeted because they are political dissidents or bear arms in conflict. They are targeted solely for religious reasons.
This is genocide and we are morally and legally bound to help them. A military resolution to this crisis will be too late for these peoples. Catholic priest Father Douglas Bazi, the director of the renowned Mar Elias refugee encampment for Iraqi Christians in Erbil, tells me: “Help us live. Help us leave.” They need visas. The West can easily provide them, and it must.
About the author:
* Nina Shea, Director, Center for Religious Freedom
This article was published at the Hudson Institute.