The Islamic State (IS) is about to lose control over all the Assyrian valley of the Khabour river, in the canton of Cizîre (Western Kurdistan, Syria), after a joint operation by the Kurdish (YPG, YPJ), Assyrian (MFS, Khabour Guards) and Shammar Arab (Al Sanadid) forces had been successfully launched 15 days ago. The anti-jihadist coalition has been receiving support from US-led coalition air strikes targeting IS positions on the Khabour.
The YPG-led coalition advance has been fostered in recent days as the Kurdish-Assyrian-Arab alliance has been able to seize control of mount Evdilezîz (Kizwan), just south to the Khabour Valley. As they lost the mount, IS fighters have encountered increased difficulty in holding control of the villages on the valley, leading the YPG and its allies to retake almost all of the villages.
An Assyrian fighter can be seen in this video taking an ISIS flag down in Ghebish and replacing it with an MFS flag:
Control of the Khabour Valley is critical for two main reasons. One, the Khabour river is the natural route linking Serê Kanîyê (Ras al-Ayn) and Hesîçe (Al-Hasakah), two of the canton of Cizîre's main cities. And two, it is one of few territories where Assyrians are the majority population. Assyrians consider the Khabour Valley to be one of their main sanctuaries and one of the guarantees for their survival as a distinct people.
The valley had been held by the Kurdish forces until February 2015. The IS then launched a major offensive. YPG-YPJ, MFS and the Khabour Guards fought back in order to prevent the jihadists from seizing full control of the valley and its main town, Tel Tamir.
This map by Mark Monmonier shows the whole of the canton of Cizîre and the YPG-led alliance progress lines:
An 80-year-old Assyrian settlement
The Assyrians first settled in the Khabur Valley in the 1930s. They were families who had been expelled from the region of Hakkari, in North Kurdistan (Turkey). Before the current war, it was estimated that the Khabur Assyrian population was around 20,000 people. Their main settlement is Tal Tamir.
Other territories of Western Kurdistan also have smaller Assyrian populations, including the city of Qamishli. Cizîre authorities in 2014 declared Assyrian an official language of the canton, alongside Kurdish and Arabic.
(Image: YPG, YPJ, MFS and Assyrian flags in Khabour / photo by MFS.)
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