The threats and warnings and the fear that remains
Christians who were kidnapped from villages in northeastern Syria last month were repeatedly urged to convert to Islam by their Islamic State captors.
In addition, if they returned to their villages along the Khabur River and the Islamic State captured them again, they would be killed and their wives would be enslaved, according to one of the captives who were subsequently released.
The Islamic State group attacked 35 Assyrian villages along the river February 23, taking between 262 and 373 Assyrians. On March 1 it released 19 of those taken from one village, Tel Goran, and on March 3 another two. The Assyrian International News Agency interviewed one of the former captives, who are staying in the city of Hassakah. Identifying him with a pseudonym, Robert, AINA published a transcript of the telephone conversation.
Robert said the group was taken to Abdul Aziz mountain, where they spent the night in two small rooms.
AINA: That was the first thing they said?
Robert: Yes, that was their idea that we should convert to Islam.
AINA: Who was speaking to you?
Robert: Many bearded people spoke to us, and everyone asked us to convert to Islam.
AINA: How many?
Robert: Very many. Everyone spoke to us, whoever saw us.
AINA: What happened next?
Robert: We spent the night there. In the morning they brought cars and drove us for about 4 hours into the mountains.
AINA: Which mountains?
Robert: Toward Tur Abdin [north; Tur Abdin is an Assyrian city in Turkey]. They placed us in a couple of homes.
AINA: How long did you stay there?
Robert: For 5 days, until we were released.
AINA: When you arrived there what did ISIS say and do?
Robert: They kept pressuring us to convert to Islam, it was their constant focus. But we were not mistreated.
AINA: When ISIS asked you to convert to Islam, what was your answer?
Robert: We said we would not convert. They said you must then pay the jizya [a Christian poll tax] or leave the country. That was the option given to us. We said we would pay the jizya but we would not convert.
AINA: How much was the jizya?
Robert: They said this time they would not collect the jizya because we had not fought against them. They said that they would release us on condition that we not return to our village. They said if we returned and they captured us again they would kill us without any other option, they would behead the men and enslave the women.
He said that upon their release, ISIS hired a driver, who took the group to the Church of St. Mary in Hassakah. The church was already full of refugees from the Assyrian villages.
Robert said they had thought they might not get through the ordeal alive and were relieved to be freed. But the experience has shaken him so much that he is convinced the refugees cannot return to the villages.
AINA: All 21 of you?
Robert: Not just us, all the Assyrians, Khabur is empty now. Everyone is making plans to leave.
AINA: What is your family going to do?
Robert: We are going to Lebanon. We cannot go back to Tel Goran, as ISIS is occupying the village, stealing and pillaging our homes.
AINA: Only in Tel Goran or in other villages as well?
Robert: All the villages: Tel Goran, Tel Shamiran, Tel Tawal, Tel Hurmiz and all the others.
AINA: ISIS is on the south bank of the river, and the Kurdish and Assyrian fighters on the north?
Robert: Yes. There are no Assyrian civilians left in the entire area.