World

Call to Arms: Christians Joining Forces Against ISIS

Persecution has spurred Westerners to send donations, and even sign up for military service.

Call to Arms: Christians Joining Forces Against ISIS

AP Photo/Hussein Malla

While Americans like Douglas McAuthur McCain might be joining forces with the Islamic State in its effort to establish a caliphate throughout Iraq and Syria, others from the West also apparently are  taking up arms—to defend persecuted Christians in the region.

McCain is the first American reported to have died fighting for the Islamic State in Syria. FBI Director James Comey said in June that roughly 100 people had left the United States to join the conflict in Syria

But it’s not just those who embrace the radical, fundamentalist version of Islam who are headed east. Apparently, a number of Christians from the West are signing up too.

There are thousands of Assyrian Christians from the diaspora who would go back to Iraq to defend their Christian brothers and sister if the chance were given to them, says David William Lazar, California-based chairman of the American Mesopotamian Organization. For now, though, the focus is on organizing Iraqi citizens from the Nineveh Plain.
 

"There are thousands of young Assyrian Christian men that have volunteered to join the protection units we’re planning on establishing in the coming weeks and months," Lazar said by email. "Situations like this need political consensus before anything takes place on the ground. While there are hundreds of individuals that are armed with small weapons at this time, the bulk of the force is yet to be organized. Most of our areas in the Nineveh Plain are still under ISIS control and it doesn’t look like the Kurdish militias will be able to remove them without help from the International community."

Lazar said the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the largest Assyrian political party in Iraq, has petitioned the Iraqi government in Baghdad to fund and arm this force. "They have agreed in principle to do it but nothing has taken place yet. On the other hand the Kurdish Regional Government has openly expressed its willingness to train and arm a local force, but they also have not taken any serious steps in making this a reality.

The success of such efforts will depend on support from the international community, added David Arkis, a spokesman for the Assyrian Church of the East in the United States.

A reporter from the Swiss newspaper "Sonntags Zeitung" visited a number of training centers of the Syriac Military Council, a group of armed self-defense units consisting of Syrian Christians, Chaldeans and Assyrians. They included several Swiss residents active in Iraq, one of whom said, "Someone has to take action to prevent the disappearance of Christians.”

Earlier this month, the president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Massud Barzani, announced that his government was ready to open its doors to Christian volunteers among the Kurdish armed forces by providing them with the means to create self-defense forces in their villages and defend themselves from jihadi militias of the Islamic State, Fides Agency reported. Barzani said this during a meeting with the Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Basil.

Barzini called on Christians "not to think about emigrating from their homelands, because the threat of terrorism is temporary and terrorists “will be defeated."

Apparently, such militants are getting military help from people in the West who don’t feel the Iraqi government and Western powers are doing enough. Some Europeans have been talking about an “armed pilgrimage” to Iraq, saying what is needed is a fifth Crusade or a new Lepanto, recalling the historic battle of Oct. 7, 1571, when the Holy League defeated the Muslim fleets of the Ottoman Empire.

There are also those like Catholic journalist Antonio Socci who have criticized Pope Francis as being