In both Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is literally hunting and killing Assyrian Christians. Just this week, dozens of these Christians in Syria were captured by the Islamic State; their fate remains unknown. Who are these people facing persecution?
Michael Holtz, at The Christian Science Monitor, examines the long history of these Christians.
Alternatively known as Syriac, Nestorian, or Chaldean Christians, they trace their roots back more than 6,500 years to ancient Mesopotamia, predating the Abrahamic religions. For 1,800 years the Assyrian empire dominated the region, establishing one of most advanced civilizations in the ancient world.
The Assyrian empire collapsed in 612 B.C. during the rise of the Persians. Then, 600 years later, they became among the earliest converts to Christianity. They still speak an endangered form of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, and consider themselves the last indigenous people of Syria and Iraq.
Following the birth of Christianity, Assyrian missionaries spread across Asia, from the Mediterranean to the Pacific, and built a new empire that lasted until Arab Muslims swept through the Middle East in 630.
Modern Assyrian Christians are all too familiar with religious persecution. One hundred years ago, the Assyrians were the victims of genocide in what is modern-day Turkey. About 40,000 Assyrian Christians remain in Syria today; many have fled the country because of extremist groups like the Islamic State.
The Islamic State has imposed a “religious tax” on any groups that are not Muslim in Syria and other regions, and there are reports that the group has ordered the removal of crosses from churches. Of course, these are small concerns compared to the mass kidnappings and executions the Islamic State is known for.