The Assyrian Christian villages raided and inhabited by Islamic State militants in February have now been retaken by Kurdish forces, local clergy have confirmed. “All the villages along the Khabour River have been liberated,” Father Emanuel Youkhana told Catholic News Service.
According to Father Youkhana, clergy have already begun returning to their villages. Father Bakos, of Tal Tamar village, “rang the church bell to celebrate,” he said, though urged villagers not to follow suit too quickly because Kurdish forces were still removing mines left by the jihadists.
Father Youkhana said those that remain in captivity are thought to be being treated well however, and another Catholic priest based in Jordan, Father Rifat Bader, expressed a hope that they would be returned safely soon.
An ancient branch of Christianity, the Assyrian Church of the East has roots dating back to the 1st century AD. Assyrian Christians speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and have origins in ancient Mesopotamia – a territory which is now spread over modern day northern Iraq, north-east Syria and south-eastern Turkey.
ISIS’ treatment of Assyrian Christians has been condemned by the UN Security Council, which has called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of all those captured.