The Assyrian Church of the East is an ancient apostolic Church that separated from Holy Orthodoxy after the third Ecumenical Council, held in Ephesus in the year 431. This lengthy New York Times story (please read the whole thing) recounts the devastation that the terror group ISIS wrought in one Syrian region populated by Assyrian Christians. Many Orthodox Christians were also driven from their homes, forcibly converted, otherwise persecuted, and even killed by ISIS. This scourge, moreover, is not entirely a thing of the past: a new UN report reveals that ISIS is resurgent and ready for war. Please continue to pray for the vulnerable and threatened Christians of the Middle East.
“‘There Are No Girls Left’: Syria’s Christian Villages Hollowed Out by ISIS,” by Ben Hubbard, New York Times, August 15, 2018:
…The number of Christians across the Middle East has been declining for decades as persecution and poverty have led to widespread migration. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, considered Christians infidels and forced them to pay special taxes, accelerating the trend in Syria and Iraq.
In this area of Syria, the exodus has been swift.
Some 10,000 Assyrian Christians lived in more than 30 villages here before the war began in 2011, and there were more than two dozen churches. Now, about 900 people remain and only one church holds regular services, said Shlimon Barcham, a local official with the Assyrian Church of the East.
Some of the villages are entirely empty. One has five men left who protect the ruins of the Virgin Mary Church, whose foundations the jihadists dynamited. Another village has only two residents — a mother and her son.
Mr. Barcham doubted that many people would return. “They all say nice things about wanting to come back, but I don’t think they will,” he said.
Assyrians are an indigenous Middle Eastern minority who trace their roots to the ancient Assyrian empire. Their main modern communities are in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and a few Western countries. They belong to a number of churches, including the Assyrian Church of the East and the Chaldean Catholic Church, and they speak a dialect of Aramaic.
When the Islamic State began its rampage across Iraq and Syria, the jihadists killed or enslaved Shiite Muslims and Yazidis, but they sought to make money off the Assyrians, probably assuming that their relatives abroad would pay dearly to have them released.
That tactic worked. Even before ISIS emerged, Assyrians had been leaving the Middle East for decades, and many in the diaspora rallied to help their brethren held captive in Syria, holding fund-raisers and sending cash from abroad for ransom payments, which were handled by a local Assyrian bishop, Mr. Barcham said.
The extremists demanded as much as $50,000 for the release of individual captives, but often accepted lower sums. The church has never revealed exactly how much it paid the Islamic State, but most assume it was more than a million dollars.
Not everyone was saved. Three hostages dressed in orange jumpsuits were killed in a video the jihadists sent to goad payments for others. One kidnapped woman never returned. Villagers assumed she was forced to marry an ISIS fighter.
Those days of fear and violence in the villages are gone, but the scars they left are everywhere.
Sitting alone in front of his house in Tel Tal, Oshana Kasho Oshana, 81, said he had been kidnapped by ISIS fighters and held for 30 days while his relatives negotiated his release, eventually paying about $13,000….
Read the whole story here.