In a Small Christian Village in Northern Iraq, ISIS Has Met Its Match
The Associated Press reports that the mostly Christian Assyrian town of Bukafa, about 243 miles north of Baghdad, has been returned to the control of its residents. The town was one of 23 captured by ISIS terrorists over the summer. Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters came down from the north and fought house to house against ISIS, finally driving them from the village.
Many of the Christian families fled during the fighting, but now the Kurdish forces have helped about 70 villagers set up a Christian militia, called Dwekha Nahwasha, or “self-sacrifice” in Assyrian. The militia is patrolling the village around-the-clock to deter a further incursion by ISIS, in the hope Christian families will soon be able to return.
During a recent visit to the village, an AP reporter interviewed Caesar Jacob, a deputy to the commander of the militia. Jacob is a 44-year-old electrician who explained that the militia has now taken over full responsibility for the village, which includes 95 households. He said,
We must depend on ourselves to defend our land for now and the future.
His commander is Albert Kisso, 47. Kisso said the Kurds needed local support, and it only makes sense for Christians in the area to take responsibility for providing ongoing protection to the village.
Assyrian Christians are an indigenous group of Iraqi Semites, descended from the ancient Mesopotamians. They speak an eastern Aramaic dialect. Along with the Chaldeans, they comprise the largest group of Christians in the country.
The 200-year old St. Gorgiz Monastery is located in Bukafa. Kisso says the monastery is a tribute to the “elegance of the Mesopotamian civilization” from which his people are descended. A longstanding member of the Assyrian Patriotic Party, Kisso says:
It is the priority of Dwekh Nawsha to protect the sons of this region, as well as the region itself – including its monasteries, churches, artifacts.
ISIS has brutally attacked not just Christians, but other religious minorities as well, including members of the ancient Yazidi sect. It is estimated that 120,000 Christians are now in exile from the area. The Kurdish fighters are proud to stand in solidarity with the religious minorities. The local peshmerga brigade commander, Abdul Rahman Kawriny, says:
We came here … to protect our Christian brothers and their homes. There is constant cooperation and assistance. We are always together.
The Dwekh Nawsha militia members patrol the streets wearing bullet-proof vests and their Dwekha Nahwasha insignia. In order to join, the men must own a weapon. Many in the group said their numbers would be much larger if weapons were available. As it is, they rely for support on donations from Christian charities overseas, and from wealthy Assyrians in Iraq.