”Please, the world needs to know: We are captives, we don’t have water or electricity here in Aleppo but it is nothing compared to the fear we have toward the Islamists. Why is no one doing anything to save us?”
A young Assyrian Christian woman in Aleppo, Syria, spoke these words to me during a phone call a few days ago. She is stuck in the country with her three small children.
In wake of the ISIS invasion of Iraq, reports (long overdue) are emerging about the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the country. Yet ISIS is committing the same atrocities against non-Muslims in Syria, too.
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has been emptied of almost all Christians. Ten days ago, ISIS – who now call themselves the Islamic State (IS) – distributed fliers to Christians that read: “Convert, Pay Jizya, Leave or Die.”
The Christians fled in droves before the Saturday deadline for their decision.
The scant few who remained were weak, old or injured and could not flee. A man who lost his leg in a bombing a couple of days prior to the deadline was forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint, according to his relatives.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, also has been nearly emptied of Assyrians, Armenians and other non-Muslims.
These are the words spoken to me by the father of the three children stuck with their mother in another phone call: "It’s happening right in front of their eyes and no one is lifting a finger to stop it. Please be our voice, we beg you -- make them do something to save us from being slaughtered.”
The husband has fled to Sweden. He had a plan of bringing his family later. But for now, he has left them behind, and they are in severe danger.
After our conversation, I thought at first, what kind of man is he to leave his family behind? Then I realized I’ve interviewed thousands of refugees who have been similarly deserted in countries like China, Thailand, Chad, or have had friends and family who have drowned in their attempts to flee. Maybe this young man was threatened by the Jihadists and decided to flee rather than risk his entire family’s life.
And who I am to judge him, while I’m enjoying the freedom and safety of Sweden, where I myself arrived as an 8-year-old?
Then I reminded myself of this: I have been trusted to be the voice of some of these people; the unheard minorities of this world, who are being persecuted, slaughtered and forcibly removed from their birthplaces. That is the task I have somehow been given, and I take that responsibility very seriously. Someone has to do it.
Right now in Syria and Iraq, girls are being kidnapped, raped and killed. Young men have been beheaded in front of cameras because of their faith. For a decade now I have been watching these gruesome video clips that find their way to me. This is the kind of footage that will never leave you. Nor will the desperate voices of the victims.
So I must continue speaking out for Mary, a young woman in her mid-20s, who was dragged out of her house in Southeast Syria for being an Assyrian activist. She was pushed to the ground in the middle of the street and shot in the head. Then the terrorists shouted that they would murder the entire family of anyone attempting to touch the corpse. The same night dogs started to eat her body.
And I will continue talking about the Assyrian and Armenian girls who are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and marry Jihadists, as one Iraqi and Syrian city after another is being emptied of Christians.
Before Syria's civil war broke out, more than 200 Assyrian families and 1,000 individuals lived in Tabqa, a city in northern Syria. Nearly all of them have left the country; some of them are stranded all over the world, abandoned by cynical smugglers who failed to get them to Europe. Only three Assyrian families had remained in Tabqa. The rebels told them that they would not be harmed. The remaining Assyrians were poor and were trying to maintain what little they had.
One of them was 26-year-old Ninar Odisho. Ninar was brutally murdered by the terrorists. The reason he was killed could be found on his body. The Jihadists had burned a cross into his face. Every day I get reports of atrocities. Our nation, our Christian legacy and our way of life are being eradicated. Assassinated.
The prideful tone in which the perpetrators speak whenever I have interviewed them --both Al Qaeda and IS --– is equally shocking. These are mostly disgruntled young men who were teetering on the edges of society in their own homelands, often in European suburbs, and now believe they have the power to do whatever they want in the name of Islam. They can claim any house in IS-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria as their own, and tell the owners to either leave or risk being killed. They can take any woman as their wife.
Why? Because no one is stopping them.
At least 700, 000 non-Muslims -- Christians, Mandeans, Yezidis and others -- have left Iraq by now. No one knows how many have left Syria.
IS is also persecuting Muslims. They have killed Sunni Mullahs in Mosul to show that they do not tolerate any interpretation of the Koran other than their own hijacked and distorted version, and that they will accept no religious authority other than their own homemade version.
In other words, everyone other than them is a target: especially the more immediate rivals to their religious and communal authority, other Muslim sects such as the Shia and the Alawites.
They will cut off your tongue if they don’t like what you say, and sever your fingers if they catch you smoking. According to sources in Mosul yesterday, a man was brutally attacked and tortured because he was wearing jeans, which to the IS is tantamount to wearing an U.S. Army uniform.
So, what is the rest of the world doing about this?
Well, world leaders are funding the opposition in Syria, including many of the same extremist groups that they claim America will combat in Iraq by supporting the Iraqi government.
I am struggling to make any moral or human sense of it all.
And here’s a good question: Why is the most powerful country in the world silent as Christianity is wrenched of its roots?
As for me, I came to a point where I have concluded it’s not enough to bear witness anymore.
On June 19 of this year, a young Assyrian who was forcibly deported from Sweden back to Iraq called me from a basement in Mosul. He was whispering. He told me to listen to the surrounding noise: men screaming “Taqbir!” and “Allah u Akbar!” It was ISIS invading his city.
The next morning I went on Facebook and Twitter and asked my friends for help. I started a worldwide campaign. It is called A Demand For Action. We have sent e-mails to politicians, NGOs and media outlets all over the world. We will not stop making the voices of the victims in Iraq and Syria heard until they receive a permanent solution.
In the Nineveh Plains, just south of Iraqi Kurdistan, Assyrians and other minorities constitute the demographic majority and are currently very vulnerable. We need a safe haven, if Christianity and its followers are not to be eradicated from their place of origin for good.
Last week, yet another village in Iraq was attacked by IS. The Christians of the Middle East have faced many massacres over the past century. We are now facing the prospect of a new genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria.
American and other nations’ leaders must show their support and act now.
Nuri Kino is a Swedish-Assyrian freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is co-author of the political thriller, “The Line in the Sand.”