Michael Schmidt

At 5 a.m. on Monday February 23 ISIS stormed into villages along the Khabour River in Syria. Their targets were Assyrian Christians living in the area. Assyrians have been in the Middle East for more than 6000 years and the Assyrian Empire stretched from the Mediterranean to what is present-day Iran. The terror group kidnapped a confirmed 150 (though the number is suspected to be around 350) Assyrians from the villages of Tel Shamiran, Tel Goran, and Tel Jazira. ISIS is using the captured Assyrians as a negotiating ploy to get back its fighters imprisoned by the Kurds. The Assyrians who were able to escape their villages before ISIS attacked have fled to the city of Qamishli, a temporary solution because ISIS can easily reach them if they remain anywhere in the country. After taking multiple Assyrian villages, ISIS approached Tel Tamer. Here’s where this story hits home: my parents are Assyrian immigrants who grew up in Tel Tamer. I spent a couple of summers there as a child, and up to a few days ago, one of my uncles and two of my aunts still lived there. ISIS displaced them from their homes. For an entire day, my parents, brothers and I did not even know whether they were safe or not. Assyrians in Canada attempted to contact relatives in Syria, and have reported that ISIS fighters answered the phone and told them to “stop calling, you can’t do anything for them. The idea of an entire group of people being massacred in one area seems eerily familiar. With this story, we are reminded of the Holocaust and the Trail of Tears. The Assyrian community is reminded of the massacres of 1915 and 1933, when my grandparents were forced from their homes in Iraq. They ended up in Syria and that is where my parents were born. My mom told me that she grew up hearing my grandparents tell her what was done to them. Now, my generation of Assyrians is growing up and hearing what is being done to our parents. The kidnapping and massacring of Assyrians in Syria and Iraq is not new, though. As a minority in the region, the Assyrian people can’t do much to resist the powers of the terror group. Now, Assyrians in Hasaka say that ISIS claims to have sent photos of the captured Assyrians to the US government to get the US to stop any airstrikes against them. If the airstrikes do not stop, ISIS says that they will kill all of the captured Assyrians. The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), however, says that executions have already begun. According to AINA, “twelve fighters from the Assyrian village of Tel Hurmiz, two of them women, have been executed by ISIS.” To my surprise, the raids are getting more media attention than I expected. However, most of the articles that I’ve read leave out the word “Assyrian” and say that ISIS is attacking “Christians” in Syria. Assyrians are in fact Christian, but to claim us as only Christians is to neglect the rest of our story. While ISIS does have what The Atlantic calls a “[commitment] to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people,” they also want to ethnically cleanse the area. Wiping Assyrians out of Iraq and Syria (the two countries with the densest Assyrian population) not only hurts the Assyrian population, considering that there are only about 3.5 million Assyrians in the world, but also erases any sort of Assyrian history and culture from the area. ISIS recently released a video of its militants in Mosul, Iraq destroying an Assyrian winged bull statue dating back to 7th century B.C. But what are the implications of erasing Assyrian history? As a diaspora, Assyrians don’t have a home country. To erase any of our remaining history is to chip away at the identity of an entire ethnic group. It’s often thought that civilization began with tales of Roman generals and Greek philosophers, but the Assyrian Empire is the backbone of civilization. What does it do to our humanity to allow a group of people to be erased from history? The Assyrian civilization was powerful as it lead the world into a new era. Thousands of years later, Assyrian people continue to exist but have no place to call their own. We have fallen through the cracks of history despite all of our contributions to the modern world. Who is to say that in 2000 to 3000 years, Americans will even be remembered?   “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemöller]]>