Erasing the Legacy of Khabour:
Destruction of Assyrian Cultural Heritage in the Khabour Region of Syria
March 31, 2020
Often overlooked in the discourse concerning the atrocities committed by the Islamic State against the Assyrian people is the destruction of cultural heritage. In this report, we analyze the destruction of Assyrian tangible and intangible cultural heritage in the Khabour Region in northeast Syria as a significant aspect of the Islamic State’s policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Evidence of destruction is documented and presented in context with other criminal acts to ensure these deeds do not go unrecognized and unpunished.
Before dawn on February 23, 2015, militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State launched a fierce offensive targeting the 35 Assyrian villages in the Khabour Region in northeastern Syria. The surprise attack forced thousands of Assyrians to flee their homes. Dozens were killed, and 226 civilians were taken captive by the terrorist group. The region remained partially-occupied by Islamic State militants for a period of approximately three months, during which time, villages were looted and places of worship were set on fire or severely damaged by explosions.
There has consistently been a link between cultural and physical destruction in the genocidal campaigns targeting the Assyrian people in modern history. Catastrophic losses have been sustained with regard to Assyrian cultural heritage, and many sites remain at great risk. The destruction of heritage is more than just the destruction of property—it threatens the unique identity of the targeted communities.
There is little reason to doubt that Assyrian intangible cultural heritage has been heavily affected as a result of war, destruction, displacement, and other disruptions to the social, economic, and cultural fabric of the Assyrian people over the course of the past century.
The targeting of Assyrian cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, has jeopardized the survival of the Assyrian culture, as well as the traditions and practices central to Assyrian identity.
The Assyrian Policy Institute is grateful to its donors Dr. John Michael, Tony S. Kalogerakos, Atornia Zomaya, Aladin Khamis, Abe Yousif, Manny Goriel, Dr. Edison Ishaya, and Dr. Dennis Gelyana. The contents of this report are the responsibility of the Assyrian Policy Institute and do not necessarily reflect the position of the above-named organizations and individuals.