(AINA) -- On February 23 ISIS attacked 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur river, in the Hasaka province in Syria, capturing between 262 and 373 Assyrians. The majority of the Assyrians were captured from Tel Shamiran, Tel Hurmiz, Tel Goran and Tel Jazira. ISIS captured 21 Assyrians from Tel Goran. On March 1 it released 19 of them, and on March 3 it released the remaining two, including a 6 year-old girl named Mariana Mirza.
See attacks on Assyrians in Syria for more information.
AINA spoke by telephone today with one of the Assyrians who was captured in Tel Goran and subsequently released. His name is Robert (name changed). He gave a full account of their ordeal, from the moment they were captured to the moment they arrived in Hasaka after being released.
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 close is your house to the river?
Robert: Our house is right on the river. We stayed in that room for about three hours until the fighting stopped. In the lull the bell at St. Zaya church in our village rang three times. This made the ISIS guys angry and agitated. They asked us if there was anyone else in the village. We said all of us are here and the village is empty. They asked how can the bell be ringing. We said we don't know.
ISIS then brought a car and drove us to Abdul Aziz Mountain.
AINA: How many of you were there?
Robert: 21. 17 men and 4 women.
AINA: What happened when you arrived at Abdul Aziz Mountain?
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: Which mountains?
Robert: Toward Tur Abdin [north; Tur Abdin is an Assyrian city in Turkey]. They placed us in a couple of homes.
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.
AINA: When ISIS asked you to convert to Islam, what was your answer?
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 happened 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.
AINA: Did you return straight to Hasaka?
Robert: Yes. They hired a car which brought us back to Hasaka, it was a long car. We drove straight to Hasaka.
AINA: Who was driving the car? An ISIS member?
Robert: No, it was hired.
ANA: How did you feel when you arrived at Hasaka?
Robert: Frankly, we did not believe that we would come out alive, we had been frightened badly. When we arrived at Hasaka we were very happy when we saw the church of St. Mary full and all the people there.
AINA: During your captivity, what were you and the others thinking?
Robert: We were in constant fear, we did not believe they would release us. It was by grace of St. Zaya and God that we were saved.
AINA: Now that you are safely in Hasaka, what are you going to do?
Robert: We cannot return to our village. We will very soon go to Lebanon.
AINA: All 21 of you?
Robert: Not just us, all the Assyrians, Khabur is empty now. Everyone is making plans to leave.
AINA: What is your family going to do?
Robert: We are going to Lebanon. We cannot go back to Tel Goran, as ISIS is occupying the village, stealing and pillaging our homes.
AINA: Only in Tel Goran or in other villages as well?
Robert: All the villages: Tel Goran, Tel Shamiran, Tel Tawal, Tel Hurmiz and all the others.
AINA: ISIS is on the south bank of the river, and the Kurdish and Assyrian fighters on the north?
Robert: Yes. There are no Assyrian civilians left in the entire area.