SYRIA

Prior to the start of the war in Syria, it is estimated that the country was home to approximately 200,000 ethnic Assyrians, the majority of whom were concentrated in the northeastern region of Khabour and the city of Qamishli (Beth Zalin). The major modern Assyrian presence in Syria dates back to the aftermath of the Assyrian Genocide (1914-23) and the Simele Massacre (1933).

Ending the war in Syria and rebuilding the Syrian state.

Seven years of war has caused severe damage and destruction to most of the country. Millions of Syrians have lost their homes while hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. A country that was once steeped in history and diverse culture has been reduced to rubble. Millions are still displaced and unable to return home due to the devastation and instability. 

While all Syrians are suffering the reality of war and the prospect of more violence, devastation, and poverty, the conflict has a unique impact on Syria's minoritized communities, some of whom, like the Assyrians, are struggling for their very survival as a people.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Facilitate the rebuilding of the Syrian state by reducing violence in the country and striving toward stability. Accelerate all diplomatic efforts to end the war; IS and other terrorist groups must be defeated. Support Syria's unity, independence, territorial integrity, and secular character. Convene representatives of the Government of Syria and the Syrian opposition for a political process leading to credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance, followed by a new constitution and elections conducted with UN supervision. Protect the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious denomination.

Rehabilitation of the Khabour Region.

On February 23, 2015, IS attacked the 35 Assyrian villages along the Khabour river in northeastern Syria. The collective population of these villages, which since the start of the war had dwindled to approximately 3,000, fled to Qamishli (Beth Zalin) and Hassakah (Gozarto). In the course of the incursion, IS captured 253 Assyrian civilians, and in many cases, entire families. IS released the majority of hostages over the course of one year, though it is unclear whether their release was the result of ransom payments, negotiations, or both. Three male Assyrian captives were executed on the morning of September 23, 2015. 

The Khabour villages are now free of IS, but exist in a state of devastation and are still heavily mined. Most families have not returned and are externally displaced as refugees.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Begin rebuilding the Khabour Region in order to promote the safe return of its Assyrian inhabitants. Invite the UN Mission in Iraq to oversee rehabilitation efforts, reducing exploitation and preventing the imposition of single-party hegemonic policies across northern Syria.

Protection of Assyrian property rights.

Since at least 2015, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which operates in northern Syria, has confiscated the property of displaced Syrians driven from their homes due to the unrest. According to local Assyrian organizations and churches, approximately 35% percent of property in the Hassakeh Governorate is Assyrian-owned. Despite enormous resistance from Assyrian organizations, the expropriation of Assyrian land is ongoing. Should these violations continue, they will permanently prevent the return of Assyrians who formerly inhabited these areas. Assyrian organizations feel this is part of an effort to force demographic change in the region. 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Support the protection of Assyrian property rights regardless of political transformations in Syria.

Recognition of Assyrians as one of the constituent peoples of Syria.

In Syria, Assyrians are officially and incorrectly designated as Arabs and commonly referred to as Christians. While most contemporary Syrian Christians do not posses a distinct ethnic identity, unlike the Assyrian populations who are defined by a set of distinct cultural and linguistic traits. Despite this, the Assyrian identity is not recognized by the Syrian Government and laws restrict the teaching of the Assyrian language.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Pressure Syrian officials to end state policies and rhetoric that promote Arabization, and respect the cultural diversity of Syria's population. 

Protection of freedom of speech.

Many Assyrians in Syria have sought democratic reform of the Syrian state, and have organized to secure recognition of the Assyrian identity and a more meaningful place for Assyrians within the country. For example, they have publicly raised concerns over state neglect of the Khabour Region. Assyrian activists who spoke out against the regime were harassed, arrested, or tortured. 

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Pressure Syrian officials to end the repression of political and civil society organizations that oppose the Syrian Government and to allow these organizations to operate freely and without fear. 

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© 2018 Assyrian Policy Institute