In late February ISIS cut a swath of destruction across the Syrian countryside, attacking 35 Assyrian villages and taking almost 300 innocent people captive. One of those towns was a small village by the name of Tel Goran, from which 21 Assyrian Christians were captured and carried off into captivity. The ISIS fighters kept these people captive for some five days before finally releasing the lot of them, on the condition that none of them return to their village. The captives agreed.
But that isn’t the full extent of their story. In fact, the rest of the story ends up making the ordeal sound more like an act of God and less like a simple hostage situation.
The Assyrian International News Agency (or AINA) recounted the story through an interview they did with a young man named Robert who was one of the hostages from Tel Goran.
AINA: Tell us how the attack started and how you were captured.
Robert: There usually are guards in the village. On that day the guards left for Hasaka at 4 A.M. ISIS entered the village at 5 A.M. and knocked on our doors and awoke us. They rounded us up, everyone in the village, and placed us in a small room. On the other [north] side of the river there were Kurdish and Assyrian fighters, and we could hear the exchange of fire between them and ISIS.
AINA: How many of you were there?
Robert: 21. 17 men and 4 women.
Robert: They placed us in two small rooms. We spent the night there.
AINA: What did they say to you?
Robert: They asked us to convert to Islam.
AINA: That was the first thing they said?
Robert: Yes, that was their idea that we should convert to Islam.
AINA: Who was speaking to you?
Robert: Many bearded people spoke to us, and everyone asked us to convert to Islam.
AINA: How many?
Robert: Very many. Everyone spoke to us, whoever saw us.
AINA: What happened next?
Robert: We spent the night there. In the morning they brought cars and drove us for about 4 hours into the mountains.
AINA: How long did you stay there?
Robert: For 5 days, until we were released.
AINA: When you arrived there what did ISIS say and do?
Robert: They kept pressuring us to convert to Islam, it was their constant focus. But we were not mistreated.
Robert: We said we would not convert. They said you must then pay the jizya [a Christian poll tax] or leave the country. That was the option given to us. We said we would pay the jizya but we would not convert.
AINA: How much was the jizya?
Robert: They said this time they would not collect the jizya because we had not fought against them. They said that they would release us on condition that we not return to our village. They said if we returned and they captured us again they would kill us without any other option, they would behead the men and enslave the women.
AINA: Did anything else happen while you were there?
Robert: No. We were provided with all necessities — food, water, bathing facilities. They brought us everything.
AINA: What did they say on the day of your release?
Robert: They again said that we must not stay in the country, if they captured us again they would kill us.
ISIS has been raping, robbing, pillaging and murdering as they ransack the Iraqi and Syrian countryside, yet here we have a story where not only were all of the captured Christians released unharmed, they were not even maltreated during their captivity.
I don’t know (and neither do those who were held captive) the reasons why this group was treated with such care, but we can be thankful for small miracles. Yes, they’re still being forced to flee their homes for foreign soil, but at least they do so with their lives intact.
The article mentions that one reason given by ISIS for the group not receiving harsher treatment was the fact that they didn’t fight back. While this may have worked in this instance, we know from other experiences that not fighting back has not always led to better treatment from ISIS.
In fact, many of the dead who have fallen before the horror that is ISIS were innocent victims who never raised a finger to fight back.
Which is why the safe return of the villagers from Tel Goran is no doubt a miracle from God.
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