February 23rd, 2015 marked another day of infamy on the ISIS calendar of atrocities. That day, their barbaric parade entered the Assyrian village of Tel-Shamiram brandishing their characteristic savagery. By mid-morning the ISIS thugs had abducted 235 Assyrians, including 89 women and 39 children, providing the international community with yet another example of their grotesque promotional gimmickry.
For me, this was not just another on the growing list of ISIS atrocities. On the day of the hostage taking, I called my friend Jamil Diarbakirli, the Director of Assyrian Human Rights Monitor. I could hear Jamil crying. His voice trembled as he told me that he had seen one of his relatives lying on the street dead - having been murdered by ISIS - and that some of his friends and relatives were among the hostages taken.
Since the hostage taking, Jamil has been working to locate and distribute humanitarian aid to those in the Assyrian community who were able to flee to their churches after the attack on the village. Jamil works tirelessly, without help of any significance from the outside world.
Meanwhile, Ramina, a 35 year old woman who writes poems, is among those taken hostage. Ramina once wrote, "I will raise my voice and make my songs fly so that the entire world will hear me." There is no word on her fate. One can only hope that she has not been murdered by ISIS.
My Assyrian friend George Stifo, a leading activist, tells me that it is urgent that the international community pay attention and take a stand to help the Assyrians who are in need of protection and humanitarian aid. They are just like so many other Syrians from different backgrounds, who are suffering as a result of the Syrian conflagration that is heading into its fifth year.
But Jamil, Ramina and George's truth - and ours - is that the Assyrians have been abandoned, much like the larger Syrian Sunni community which has been at the sharp end of Assad's serial killing spree.
The Assyrians are the most ancient of Syria's many distinct communities. A unique and beautiful minority of Syria, they have always been part of our tapestry of Syria's peoples, stemming from so many different ancient roots. They are ethnic Christians, who still speak the ancient Biblical language of the Middle East, Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Now this ancient community is facing annihilation as it is murdered by both ISIS, and its mirror image, Assad.
The Assyrians are certainly not the only Syrian community in crisis, but they are arguably the most vulnerable because of their geographic proximity to the border of ISIS's self-proclaimed Caliphate. The Assyrian community has a history of being pro-democratic. They are advocates of a free Syria and among the oldest Opposition groups to stand against the Syrian Regime dictatorship in Damascus. In fact, one of the greatest leaders of the Assyrian community, Gabriel Kourieh, President of the Assyrian Democratic Organization, is still imprisoned in a Syrian Regime dungeon. These facts should be remembered. And we should be looking at ourselves and asking why there has been barely an outcry from Syrians and the West over his plight.
The crisis facing the Assyrians today is a manifestation of a profound problem in Syria. They are among a moderate Syrian Opposition, which stands against the brutal Assad regime in Damascus. But that moderate opposition has been unable to establish itself as a viable alternative to the Assad regime, on the one side, or a safe alternative to ISIS-inspired religious fanaticism on the other. As such, the Assyrians and communities like them are caught in the crossfire between a mad dictatorship in Damascus, and a religiously fanatical extreme, while the moderate opposition remains unable to provide a necessary safe haven from either extreme. The abduction of the Assyrians, the destruction of three of their churches, the murder of 10 people and the displacement of 1400 Assyrian families, are all evidence of the calamitous force coming down on them from this cauldron of competing forces struggling for power and caring little for the destruction of the innocent.
Jamil Diarbakirli and George Stifo cannot understand how all the world has a deaf ear to the Assyrians' plight. But if Ramina can write such lovely poems where words still fly in the blue sky of Syria calling the world to hear, then perhaps the time will quickly come when the world will listen.