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Fallen and forsaken

Assyrian Christians brutally executed by ISIS are largely ignored by U.S. and other Western officials

Fallen and forsaken

ISIS militants fire on the city of Hasakah, Syria. (Islamic State militant website/AP)

Associated Press

Turkish soldiers stand as people from the Syrian town of Kobani wait to cross into Turkey following attacks by ISIS militants.

Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

A displaced Assyrian man, who fled his hometown due to ISIS, prays at a Greek Catholic church in Damascus, Syria.

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A scene from the footage of ISIS militants executing Syrian Christians.


The 80-year-old Church of the Virgin Mary in Tal Nasri destroyed by ISIS.

Associated Press/Photo by Bilal Hussein

Assyrian Christians fleeing their home in Syria load aid onto a car at Assyrian church offices in Beirut, Lebanon.

Someone should tell ISIS: The orange jumpsuits no longer draw the world’s attention as they did a year ago when American journalist James Foley became one of the terror group’s first victims to be executed on camera wearing one. 

In early October, three men crouched in sand wearing the orange one-piece outfits—all Assyrian Christians from northeastern Syria. They were shown being shot in the head and killed in a video released by ISIS. Those living in the United States most likely didn’t see the one-minute video clip. A few Arabic-language media outlets carried reports of the latest filmed execution and some showed the video, but in the United States no news outlets televised it, and only a few reported it at all. 

Yet the footage is the first from ISIS, or Islamic State, of Syrian Christians being executed. It also carried threats of further killings against hundreds of Assyrian Christians who have been held hostage for months, according to the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights. 

With the camera rolling and a brisk wind flapping their sleeves, the three men kneeling in the sand said they were “Nasrani,” a Muslim pejorative for Christians. They recited their names and hometowns: Ashur Abraha of Tel Tamar, Basam Essa Michael of Tel Shamiram, and Dr. Abdulmasih Enwiya of Jazira. Two gave their dates of birth. Three men wearing desert camouflage and black masks next stepped behind them, each raising a handgun to shoot each of the three Christians in the head. The victims’ bodies slumped forward, and seconds later three more men appeared kneeling behind the dead men, the executioners pointing guns at their heads also. 

As with the first segment, each hostage recited his name and hometown, but one of them—in what looks like a scripted gesture—pointed to the bodies on the ground and said, “Our fate is the same as these if you do not take proper procedure for our release.” With that, the video ended.

The three killed and the three apparently left alive all are confirmed part of a group of 250 Assyrians abducted in February after Islamic State attacked about 35 villages along the Khabur River in Hasakah Province. ISIS killed at least 15 young Assyrian Christians in the attacks as they tried to protect the towns, and militants rounded up hundreds and took them hostage in the overnight raids—leaving 1,400 Assyrian families unable to return to their homes (see “One family’s night flight from ISIS,” March 5, 2015). ISIS released several dozen captives, mostly elderly, leaving about 180 still held.

At that time, church leaders reported American aircraft flew over the area but took no action. The surviving Khabur River families have not received support from international aid groups or the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but were taken in by other churches in Syria and helped by the Iraq-based Assyrian aid group CAPNI and others. In April ISIS blew up a church in one of the villages, the 80-year-old Church of the Virgin Mary in Tal Nasri. In May Kurdish forces working with Christian militias managed to retake Tal Nasri and several other villages, but ISIS had land-mined the towns, especially the spaces surrounding churches. The Christian residents have not been allowed to return to the 35 villages dotting the area, which were settled by those escaping the genocide of Christians in Turkey and Iraq a century ago.

According to Arabic-language news outlets, the videotaped executions took place on Sept. 23 during a Muslim holiday known as the “Festival of the Sacrifice” (eid al-Adha). The killings followed months of indirect negotiations by Assyrian human rights groups for the captured Christians’ release.

Osama Edward, director of the Stockholm-based Assyrian Human Rights Network, says ISIS is demanding $12 million for release of all the hostages. The negotiations, he said, “have been suspended due to the unbearable demands of the terror group.” After the video’s release, he reported, ISIS threatened to execute the 180 remaining hostages if ransom wasn’t paid. 

Adding to the decimation for Syria’s already dispersed Christian community, the same week brought an unconfirmed report of 11 Christian workers near Aleppo beheaded then hung on crosses by ISIS militants. According to Christian Aid Mission, the workers were Muslim converts to Christianity who presided over house churches in the area. ISIS captured them in August and demanded they renounce Christianity. When they refused, they were brutalized and killed. 

With fighting and devastation intensifying in Aleppo and elsewhere in recent months, communication with church leaders has grown more difficult. At the Brussels-based European Syriac Union, a leading opposition group of the Assad government, foreign affairs head Rima Tüzün told me she had received the same report but her office had not been able to confirm the beheadings.

Western heads of state in recent weeks have become more focused on the region’s migrant crisis, rather than the violent brutality in Syria, Libya, and Iraq that is driving it. According to UNHCR, more than 300,000 refugees and migrants have tried to cross the Mediterranean for Europe so far in 2015—up from 219,000 for all of 2014 (also a record-setting year for global migration). 

The UN estimates at least 850,000 more people seeking refuge will cross the Mediterranean for Europe this year and next. It’s unclear how many Christians are among those taking to the sea. Many of them are seeking refuge with other churches or family members in the region—not wanting to risk emptying Syria and other parts of the Middle East of its Christian population, and not able to trust Western officials who seem deaf to their specific plight.

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Mindy Belz

Mindy Belz

Mindy is senior editor of WORLD Magazine and the author of They Say We Are Infidels. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.


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  • savedsinner
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:24 am

    How would General Joshua or King David respond to the killings, slaughter, and taunting of the jihadists in the Middle East and Africa? The sad effects of the feminization of the organized church in America is staggering as the culture and western civilization implode and our liberties are eroding by the week if not daily. Yet we amuse ourselves to death with one anticipated entertainment after another and "the beat goes on!"  Perhaps I am taking it out of context but I keep on thinking of the Apostle Paul in I Cor. 16 saying " ...act like men."

  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:24 am

    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:“For your sake we face death all day long;    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:35-39 (ESV)

  • JennyBeth
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:24 am

    You have made us the taunt of our neighbors,
    the derision and scorn of those around us.
    You have made us a byword among the nations,
    a laughingstock among the peoples.
    All day long my disgrace is before me,
    and shame has covered my face
    at the sound of the taunter and reviler,
    at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
    All this has come upon us,
    though we have not forgotten you,
    and we have not been false to your covenant.
    Our heart has not turned back,
    nor have our steps departed from your way;
    yet you have broken us in the place of jackals
    and covered us with the shadow of death.
    If we had forgotten the name of our God
    or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
    would not God discover this?
    For he knows the secrets of the heart.
    Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
    Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
    Why do you hide your face?
    Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
    For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
    our belly clings to the ground.
    Rise up; come to our help!
    Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
    (Ps44, ESV)

  • Paul Virr's picture
    Paul Virr
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:24 am

    I have accepted the challenge to pray daily for ISIS. I have to admit that this is the greatest challenge I have faced in my 60 + years of being a Christian believer. I don't believe we have a record of the Church praying for Saul of Tarsus. They certainly prayed for their fellow believers but not specifically for Saul (I stand ready to be corrected). God answered the church's prayers for the persecuted believers by converting Saul. May God give us grace and strength to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ in prayer.

  • Bill Taylor
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:24 am

    This administration has no belief in religious liberty.  They trash people who try to live by their consciences.  They are encouraging the gaystapo to try to take aware tax exemptions, for example.  Given that they don't mind Christians being attacked here, why would anyone expect them to care about Christians being attacked in other places.They aren't saved.  Who does the Bible say they're following?  What does that person, whose servants they are, want them to do?  Does he want them supporting Christians, or attacking them?