WASHINGTON: The National Council of Churches condemns the ISIS attack against Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria. This time, in addition to killing many and forcing others to flee, the terrorist group kidnapped some 150 people, women, children and the elderly. Some reports indicate as many as 400 were kidnapped. Among the captives are reported to be Christian priests. The fate of the captives is currently unknown.
Assyrian Christians trace their ethnic roots in the region back 6,000 years, and their religious roots to the early centuries of the Christian era. The language of their communal worship is Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. Despite experiencing difficulties within the wider society throughout the centuries, the Assyrian community has maintained a vital presence in the region for all this time; like other Christians in the region, they have emigrated in large numbers in recent years due to the ongoing violence there. With the rise of ISIS, their very existence, as demonstrated by this latest attack, is now threatened.
“The present atrocity of the ISIS ideologues against the Assyrian Christians in the Khabur region is akin to a modern-day religious genocide,” stated His Grace Bishop Mar Awa Royel, Secretary of the Holy Synod and ecumenical officer of the Assyrian Church of the East. “The international community cannot simply remain silent about this atrocity. Concrete steps need to be taken to ensure the safe return of those detained and the security of the many hundreds of families who are now displaced, driven from their homes.”
Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the NCC, echoed this call to the international community. In addition, he stated that “This kind of barbarity, again displayed by ISIS, is unconscionable, and inconsistent with any genuinely faithful expression of religious identity.” His comment is set within the context of the NCC view that, while ISIS is built upon extremist interpretations of their faith, it has absolutely no credible claim to mainstream Islam.
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, Associate General Secretary of the NCC, expressed the sorrow of the organization’s members in light of this recent attack against the Assyrian Christians. “The Assyrian Church of the East, an ancient and venerable community of Christians, is a friend of the NCC. We grieve with our colleagues here in the US, whose families and friends are impacted by this act of terror.”
This latest ISIS attack comes after the execution of Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, a Muslim soldier from Jordan, and others. It also follows killings perpetrated by followers of ISIS’ ideology in France and Belgium. Among the victims in Europe were Jews. When taken together with the group’s persecution of Christians of other traditions, Shi’ite Muslims, and Sunni Muslims who do not ascribe to their interpretations, it is clear that violence rooted in this form of extremist Islamic ideology is targeted against all who disagree with it. It would also seem that this latest attack is another step by ISIS taken toward fulfilling their threat, made when executing the Coptic Christians, against Christianity and the west in general.