Brave Local Christians Fighting ISIS Need Guns and Bullets

The Christians of Syria and Iraq are defending themselves from genocide.

By Johannes de Jong Published on June 26, 2016

Most people in U.S. and Europe will be a bit surprised by the title above. The overwhelming media narrative portrays Christians in the Middle East as victims and nothing else.

It is obvious that Syriac-Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria have indeed been victims of ISIS and other terrorist groups. However that picture is incomplete. Those Christians are also brave fighters who are stepping up to defend themselves and their families.

A member of the Syriac Military Council fighting at the Manbij frontline to cut ISIS off from Turkey.

A member of the Syriac Military Council fighting at the Manbij frontline to cut ISIS off from Turkey.

The future of these ancient communities depends on their courage, and the willingness of the West to recognize and support it.

In just the last two weeks, two important Christian self-defense forces, the Syriac Military Council and the Nineveh Plain Forces, took part in major operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The Syriac Military Council started off as a local protection force in North-East Syria and expanded quickly as the presence of the Assad regime collapsed and the Democratic Self-Administration (DSA) took over in that area.

Another view of the front lines at Manbij.

Another view of the front lines at Manbij.

The DSA is the common governance structure of North-East Syria and is jointly led by Kurds, Arabs and Syriac-Assyrian Christians. In the DSA freedom and equality for women, freedom of religion and democratic structures exist as in few parts of the Middle East. The Syriac Military Council operates in this framework and has since January 2013 been an integral part of the forces defending the DSA against ISIS. The Syriac Military Council is one of the founding organizations of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in which the existing co-operation of Kurdish, Arab and Syriac-Assyrian Christian forces defending the DSA was formalized under a united umbrella and command.

Syriac officers inspecting the Raqqa front line.

Syriac officers inspecting the Raqqa front line.

The Syriac Military Council has been part of many operations against ISIS, in partnership with the United States Air Force and Special Forces units. The fiercest clashes occurred when ISIS attacked the Khabour Valley, where the Syriac Military Council ultimately was able to claim victory after many desperate battles. With ISIS on the defensive, the SMC took part in all major SDF operations that ultimately drove ISIS out of large parts of North-East Syria. Now SMC is part of the major offensive to liberate the areas around Raqqa, the ISIS capital, before taking the city itself. Syriacs are also fighting in the Manbij operation, which is succeeding in cutting off ISIS from its external supply lines in Turkey.

The Syriac Military Council stated at the beginning of the operation:

We, men and women who protect the oldest Christian community on earth, ask the global Christian community to stand up for us and give us political and moral support. Our people suffered under the genocide committed by ISIS. As we fight back we ask Christians in government and politics to ask their governments to send us the help we really need to finish what we have started.

Syriac soldiers of many ages head to the fight against ISIS in Syria.

Syriac soldiers of many ages head to the fight against ISIS in Syria.

Kino Gabriel, spokesperson of the SMC, explained: “We simply need more arms and ammunition and other means to increase our capacity to maintain security and defeat ISIS much faster than we do now.”

At the same time the Nineveh Plain Forces (NPF) started their participation in an important operation against ISIS in Iraq. The Nineveh Plain Forces are a real sister-organization of Syriac Military Council. The NPF has been established in January 2015 in official co-operation with the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga. The goal of the NPF is to liberate the Nineveh Plain, which is the homeland of the Syriac-Assyrian Christians in Iraq. The operation, launched on May 29, managed to liberate ten villages in a wide strip of land at the Nineveh Plain. This operation was supported by the US Air Force. The NPF stated:

While our brothers and sisters of the Syriac Military Council attack ISIS near Raqqa we march to Qaraqosh to bring our people home. Our march to Qaraqosh is a sign for our people not to lose hope and to unite to retake and rebuild our cities and towns. We ask the EU, US and all international community to come to our aid in building our security and rebuilding our lands.

Nineveh Plain Forces together with Kurdish allies going after ISIS.

Nineveh Plain Forces together with Kurdish allies going after ISIS.

The successes of the Syriac Military Council and the Nineveh Plain Forces changes the picture we may have of the Syriac-Assyrian Christians in Iraq and Syria. It also challenges us to rethink our strategy to support them. No more than you or I do these Christians aspire to live in refugee camps on care packages. They ask for our assistance in standing up and defending themselves in their own country, where their families have kept the Faith for almost 2,000 years. The West’s humanitarian aid, moral support, and recognition that ISIS is engaged in genocide are important — but insufficient. What these persecuted Christians need and deserve is political and military empowerment.

Syriac 8

Nineveh Plain Forces ready to liberate their historically Christian homeland in Iraq.

Obviously from the outside the military component may seem fraught with risks. To whom do you give arms and what are the consequences? There is, however, a simple rule that can be applied here. As the U.S. and others are arming the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds and their Arab allies, it is possible to apply this support as well to those armed forces that co-operate with existing U.S. allies. The Syriac military Council is part of SDF and the NPF co-operates with the Kurdish Peshmerga. Western support should be delivered directly to these Christian militias, as it is delivered directly to other allied groups.

If we do not back our well-meaning words with concrete action these Christians will stay victims forever — and it may be only be a matter of time until some other, less tolerant, regime wipes them out or drives them into desperate exile. The brave fighters combating ISIS today need arms and ammunition to fight a war as allies of religious freedom, as allies of America against terrorism and jihad. I pray that Americans see that while there’s still time.

You may follow the progress of both the Syrian Military Council and the Nineveh Plain Force on their Facebook pages.

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