Syria: Assyrian Christians told 'If you want to come back, convert to Islam, or you will be killed'
According to the Assyrian International News Agency, Assyrian Christians who have fled from an area of Syria called al-Thawrah (also known as al-Tabqah), have been told by rebels, "If you want to come back, convert to Islam, or you will be killed."
An AINA story said, "Accounts by Assyrian refugees from reveal the real face of the Islamist undercurrent within the Syrian opposition. Furthermore, these accounts serve as a stark and chilling reminder of what has already been suffered by non-Muslim communities in Iraq since 2003.
"On February 11, rebel fighters from the al-Nusra Front took control of the city and its strategic dam, the largest of its kind in the country. They also seized control of the three quarters that housed dam workers - many of whom were Christian Assyrians.
"Whilst they allowed the dam's original staff to remain in the city in order to continue its operation, management and upkeep, those who were not Sunni Muslim were not afforded the same privilege.
One Assyrian refugee was reported as saying, "Everything is now in Jabhat al-Nusra's hands. All the Muslims stayed there, but if any Christians want to go back they have to become Muslim or else they will be killed."
The story goes on to say that Christians report their property being stolen, their homes being confiscated, and their possessions being sold on the black market in order to buy weapons and ammunition. In many of these cases, those forcefully dispossessed were not even allowed the chance to take with them any of their personal belongings.
According to the jihadist Islamist ideology espoused by such forces as the al-Nusra Front, the properties and possessions of such "infidels" are halal (fair game), and it is not a sin to plunder them.
They also threatened Christians with death if they did not comply with strict Islamic laws. "They would call and text me on my cell phone, ordering me to do as they say, or else they would kill me! Can you imagine it?" said a Christian man from al-Thawrah, who had lost all he owned, and is now internally displaced with his family. "Even though I have left they still call me from there to bother me, so I keep my phone switched off unless I really need to use it."
AINA then reported the "gruesome story" of an Assyrian man from al-Hasakah Governorate, allegedly shot by rebels in an execution-style murder just outside al-Thawrah in April 2013, which it said, "still sends shivers up the spines of those who knew him."
He used to earn a living transporting people between al-Hasakah and al-Thawrah, until his car was confiscated by al-Nusra fighters. "They told him that he could buy it back from them, so he returned to his village to bring them the money," one refugee related, "He should have stayed put and thanked God that they hadn't killed him then and there, but he didn't listen to reason and left with the money they'd requested. No one ever saw him alive again. How will his wife and four children support themselves now?"
"Whilst this case has been well-documented, many of the Christian refugees from al-Thawrah insisted that certain details be excluded from their testimonies since, being a small community, they were fearful of being identified and subsequently suffering the consequences. They are also too frightened to provide too much information over the phone or on the internet because they believe that these are being monitored by elements within Syria's opposition," the report continued.
"For most of them, staying in Syria is no longer a viable option either. To leave for Turkey or Lebanon, on the other hand, is also fraught with its own perils."
Another Assyrian refugee who refused to disclose his location said, "All the roads are full of rebel fighters."
While the head of an Assyrian household displaced from al-Thawrah, added, "It's really dangerous. We have lost everything. There is nothing for us over there now, nothing to return to. We just need help to get out of here and settle in a country that's safe."