Whither The Assyrians?

 

christian-militiaA few months, I wrote a controversial piece advocating for an independent Kurdistan and the direct arming of the Peshmerga and the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). I argued that the Peshmerga in Iraq and the the YPG in northern Syria represented the only competent, secular fighting forces engaged in the war against the Islamic State. If the US continues to fight the Caliphate by proxy, the Kurds are the best hope in keeping the heat on ISIS’ northern front.

Events the past week have cast even more doubt on the Administration’s hope that the Iraqi government is capable of defending its largest cities against a numerically inferior foe, let alone defeating the Islamic State in its territory. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has made the strongest rebuke yet stating the obvious that the incredibly well armed Iraqi Army showed no will to fight. In contrast, the poorly-equipped but fanatical YPG broke the siege of Kobane in January and surrounded and annihilated an ISIS mountain stronghold in Syria at the same time that ISIS held victory parades in Ramadi.

Left out in recent discussions on Ricochet over who to support in the war against ISIS has been the Assyrian Christians. Unlike the Kurds — with their semi-autonomous region and army — the Iraqi Christians had little with which to defend themselves during the onslaught of last summer. Christians not fortunate enough to escape Mosul had their homes marked with the “nasara” (an Arabic pejorative for Christian). And given the Islamic State’s horrific penchant for sexually enslaving Yezidi teenagers and young women and slaughtering the menfolk, the jihadists are an existential threat to what remains of Iraq’s Christians.

The Assyrians are one of the oldest cultures remaining in the Middle East and were among the earliest peoples to accept Christianity in the first century. But since much of northern Iraq fell to ISIS, over 200,000 Christians have fled to Kurdistan for safety. The ones that remain in the Christian majority region of Nineveh it seems have finally reached the conclusion that — if their culture is to escape extinction — they will need to take on the responsibility for it themselves.

Since last year, Christians in Nineveh have taken to forming their own militias like the Nineveh Plains Protection Units (NPU) and the Dwekh-Nawsha (“Self-Sacrificers). In Syria, likewise, the Syriac Christian population has formed an armed wing while working in conjunction with the YPG to fight both Assad and the Islamic State. It is little wonder then that given the tepid response of the US, some American Christians — many with a military background — have flocked to the Peshmerga or to the Assyrian militias to fight ISIS themselves. In the bizarro age of Facebook and Twitter, social media groups or the various anti-ISIS militias seek out westerners with military experience to fight against a 7th century death cult. While some deride them as mercenaries, or war tourists, or unhinged, there’s no denying that they are endangering their lives to fight savages.

I am fortunate to know many Assyrian-Americans, most of whom fled from Saddam after the first Gulf War. A few have gone on to become American citizens and either they or their children have joined the armed forces here. They express their dismay at the near total ignorance of the plight of Christians in Iraq and they wonder how a so-called “Christian country” would pay so little attention to them. In spite of the neglect, they are fiercely patriotic citizens and kiss the ground they now call home.

The question remains; what if anything should be done, policy-wise, to assist Iraq’s Christians? Would it be prudent to provide them with arms independent of Baghdad in the hopes that they might liberate or at least defend their communities against ISIS? In a fantasy world, might we seek to carve out an independent Assyria in Nineveh; a Christian homeland in the heart of the Middle East akin to Israel? Or something else entirely?

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  1. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    You give us hope Byron, that there are citizen of the US who will fight back.

    • #1
  2. Darth Vader Jr Inactive
    Darth Vader Jr
    @NedWalton

    Byron, I suspect that policy wise nothing will/can be done until 2017. Arming & training the Assyrian Christians, is, I think a good idea. Can this be done privately before it is officially too late? As I understand it, a lot of private American money funded the IRA (wrongly, I think) over the years. Maybe the Irish can save “Civilization” again.

    • #2
  3. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    An organization called the Sons of Liberty has been largely responsible for training and partially financing the NPU to include ex-military trainers. So in that regard, it is being done privately now, however meager.

    • #3
  4. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    One option that seems more realistic to me than others, since it’s already happening, is giving Turkey more support to resettle them “temporarily” (almost certainly permanently). There was already a reasonably large Assyrian population in Turkey before the war. I wrote about a region where many live, here.

    Turkey has already resettled many Assyrian refugees–they’re very over-represented among the refugees from the conflict. From a practical perspective, Turkey has resettled more refugees from both the Iraq and Syria conflicts and has a great deal of willingness to do it and experience with it. It’s done so more humanely (in terms of the conditions of the refugee camps) and with much greater generosity than any other country. Culturally, Turks seem more willing to accept refugees than other countries, although the numbers now are so huge that of course it’s causing social strain–albeit nothing like the strain it would cause if a more culturally closed country, like Italy, accepted refugees in numbers like that. The only commitment it would require of us is financial, and even that commitment would be nothing compared to arming them.

    Arming them is to send them to their doom–and thus to destroy them and what little remains of their culture. They’re a tiny minority. There were 800,000 Assyrians in Iraq before the 2003 invasion; two-thirds have been killed or fled since then. Their numbers now are so small that no matter what we arm them with, I can’t see any outcome but their total destruction at the hands of vastly larger forces. Our focus should be on saving the last who remain and their culture, and I think it’s fair to say we owe them that. (And again, the Iranians are now presenting themselves as their protectors against ISIS, so it’s also fair to say that if we don’t, they’ll join forces with them to survive, as Syria’s Christians and Druze have with Assad. I could not possibly blame them for that.)

    I would also be strongly in favor of an allowing them all to come to the United States, but I doubt there would be political support for that. There’s little support even for bringing over the many translators and other Iraqis who worked with us; and they need to be the first moral priority, because they, of course, helped us, and have thus been the first to be killed as collaborators. But if it were up to me, the doors of the United States would be wide open to them and to all of Iraq and Syria’s persecuted minorities, including the many ordinary Muslims who’ve been trapped between ISIS and the militias.

    By the way, the article to which I linked might give you a sense of their culture and this region. Hasankeyf is very close to the border. That might help people understand why I want to weep when I hear, “Just let the Muslims fight it out.” There is so much more to this part of the world than these genocidal madmen who are destroying it–whole cultures and languages, ancient religions and civilizations, ancient architecture and literature and folklore; and above all, real people. The treasures of this region belong to all of humanity; and even if they are unknown to Americans now, I’m sure that any American who saw what I saw there would immediately understand that these aren’t just savage animals fighting in a cage. They’re people like us, elderly men and women and children, people trapped between savages and praying to be spared. Everyone I met there immediately welcomed me, shared food with me, invited me into their homes–they’re people.

    Sometimes I think of this poem:

    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight

    Where ignorant armies clash by night.

    • #4
  5. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    Just to clarify: I certainly wouldn’t oppose giving any and all military assistance to Assyrian men of fighting age. That’s just obviously not going to be of much help to a woman like this, for example. She’s an Assyrian in Mardin, in Turkey, and while she’s not a refugee, there are many like her on the other side of the border. We’d be doing a woman like her no favors by handing her an M4 carbine and telling her to handle the local death squads with it. She had to hold my arm to climb her own staircase.
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    • #5
  6. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Great stuff, Claire. Thanks as always for your input. I raised that same prospect to a few Iraqi Christians that we ought to seek Assyrian immigrants and enlist them in our clandestine services. They found it flattering but at the same time worried that an exodus of all their kinsmen from the homeland would be de facto surrender to the Islamic State and resigning to a permanent exile.

    I share in the dislike of the no-nothing write off; “let them all kill each other.” Amidst the savagery, there are large swaths of civilized people who live a stone’s throw from the grasp of ISIS.
    I think a certain segment that hasn’t already fled would rather go down in flames than leave their ancestral homeland to jackals. If they refuse to budge, I can’t see the harm in tipping the scales just a little in their favor.

    • #6
  7. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    There are a lot of Assyrians in diaspora already. I have a friend who is Lebanese Assyrian – he says his father  and aunt spoke Turkish to each other (for privacy) and has relatives in Iran and Russia.

    • #7
  8. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Does make one wonder, would Syria and Iraq be better off if they went back to worshiping Zoroaster, Mani, and the Babylonian/Hellenic pantheons?

    Forget creating a new Caliph and concentrate on rebuilding the Parthian Empire! Should be easy getting the West-Hating Left on board.  After all, Parthia was one of the few powers that could manage to keep those evil Romans at bay.

    Anybody up for joining PEIL (Parthian Empire In the Levant)?

    assyrian

    • #8
  9. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    I was under the impression that Turkey would be against a homeland for the Kurds.  It seems not that long ago that some Kurds were attacking Turkey and the Turkish army made some forays into Iraq to end that threat.

    • #9
  10. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Byron Horatio:Great stuff, Claire. Thanks as always for your input. I raised that same prospect to a few Iraqi Christians that we ought to seek Assyrian immigrants and enlist them in our clandestine services.They found itflattering but at the same time worried that an exodus of all their kinsmen from the homeland would be de facto surrender to the Islamic State and resigning to a permanent exile.

    I share in the dislike of the no-nothing write off; “let them all kill each other.”Amidst the savagery, there are large swaths of civilized people who live a stone’s throw from the grasp of ISIS. I think a certain segment that hasn’t already fled would rather go down in flames than leave their ancestral homeland to jackals.If they refuse to budge, I can’t see the harm in tipping the scales just a little in their favor.

    I agree with this, but I don’t believe that the lines between civilized and uncivilized fall primarily along ethnic or religious lines.

    Byron Horatio:The question remains; what if anything should be done policy-wise to assist Iraq’s Christians? Would it be prudent to provide them with arms independent of Baghdad in the hopes that they might liberate or at least defend their communities against ISIS? In a fantasy world, might we seek to carve out an independent Assyria in Nineveh; a Christian homeland in the heart of the Middle East akin to Israel? Or something else entirely?

    I don’t think that it’s helpful to “defeat ISIS as it threatens Christians” so much as to “defeat ISIS”. America can hopefully win back its position as a valuable ally from Iran, but until the sectarian conflicts enhanced by America’s absence have quietened down again, it’s not helpful to identify military efforts as being explicitly sectarian; we don’t want to tell angry Iranians that if they want revenge on the US, they should kill Christians.

    I also think that, just as a practical matter, ISIS resources are pretty fungible.

    What America can usefully do for the Assyrian Christians, though, is to focus aid on areas that will particularly benefit those communities. Refugee support for instance, and particularly housing, is helpful. Offering temporary visas and educating Assyrians such that when they return they have more to offer their communities. Helping to build industry in Christian areas helps.

    By focusing on “refugees” rather than “Christians”, you still get a lot of the benefit, but you do so without creating the same kind of controversy.

    In general, supporting the GoI, expelling ISIS, and removing the Iranian leverage should be enough to reduce the danger. There isn’t a lot of Iraqi hostility to their minorities (hence the novelty of attacks on them when ISIS invaded), and, more importantly, no one is afraid of them. General peace in Iraq, which should follow the expulsion of ISIS, is enough for general peace and prosperity.

    • #10
  11. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Obama’s quarrel w/ ISIS — sorry, Mr. President, ISIL — appears to be driven by a desire to appease Iran.

    BTW, isn’t anyone surprised that Barry turned out to be Shiite?

    • #11
  12. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    The inattention of Americans to mass Christian martyrdom is widespread and depressing. A Voice of The Martyrs speaker at my parishes seems to be the first time many have heard of these desperate peoples.

    • #12
  13. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Fricosis Guy:Obama’s quarrel w/ ISIS — sorry, Mr. President, ISIL — appears to be driven by a desire to appease Iran.

    BTW, isn’t anyone surprised that Barry turned out to be Shiite?

    It’s driven by the polls, although he was slightly ahead of the curve. Witness Ted Cruz flipping on intervention a few months later.

    • #13
  14. Ricochet Moderator
    Ricochet
    @OldBathos

    We can always follow the model we used for the various tribesmen in Laos and Vietnam such as the Hmong in which we trained them to be an enormous pain to the Communists, armed them well, then abandoned them to be slaughtered.

    I fear that somebody would get the bright idea to arm Assyrians to keep ISIS from total victory until after another election cycle then walk away when ISIS turned fully on them.  People who rely on the United States should always have a Plan B.

    • #14
  15. user_494971 Contributor
    user_494971
    @HankRhody

    I agree, we should arm the Assyrians. Nobody knows descending like the wolf on the fold like they do.

    • #15
  16. user_83937 Inactive
    user_83937
    @user_83937

    I ally myself with Old Bathos’ remarks.  I would be happy to help them in place, but that won’t really work.  Sending them to Turkey is not even funny, and I find funny in nearly everything.  Our government assisting them?  Now that’s funny.

    Do we need them in the US, under our government?  Now that’s funny.  We would wind up with a 95% catch rate of scumbags.

    Obama winding up favoring the shia, oh, there’s a surprise, once you assume Valerie Jarrett runs US foreign policy.  If you do not assume that, sure, go ahead and believe we should arm the Kurds, or the Assyrians.

    • #16
  17. Ricochet Moderator
    Ricochet
    @OmegaPaladin

    Old Bathos:We can always follow the model we used for the various tribesmen in Laos and Vietnam such as the Hmong in which we trained them to be an enormous pain to the Communists, armed them well, then abandoned them to be slaughtered.

    I fear that somebody would get the bright idea to arm Assyrians to keep ISIS from total victory until after another election cycle then walk away when ISIS turned fully on them. People who rely on the United States should always have a Plan B.

    Makes me think that the Left is a greater threat to civilization than ISIS.  It’s some kind of passive-aggressive cowardice, like a bully or some creepy S&M type.  All this tough talk about punishing enemies and aggressively trying to crush non-violent groups, while supporting violent groups.  If Christians burned people at the stake, the Left would like them better.

    I hate this with the fury of a thousand suns.

    • #17
  18. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    OmegaPaladin:

     hate this with the fury of a thousand suns.

    Agreed!

    • #18

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