BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:15 P.M.) – Syriac Christian worshipers in Tal Baloua, near Tal Tamer, attended the first Feast of the Assumption of Mary (Lady Day festival) held in the town for six years, on Thursday.
Worshipers gathered for a church service, before sitting together outside for a communal meal. The Tal Baloua Assyrians consider the festival an assertion of their right to live in Syria, following the ousting from the area of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
The church itself was heavily damaged by IS militants during their occupation of the village in 2015. Despite restoration work, parts of the building remain severely damaged.
Most Assyrians in the region were driven out during an IS assault three years ago. Hundreds of those who remained were taken into captivity, with many only released after the payment of ransom. Some were also executed.
IS destroyed numerous Assyrian churches before local and Kurdish fighters forced them from the area. Many Assyrian villages have now been turned into dilapidated ghost towns, with their inhabitants having fled abroad.
Before the conflict, an estimated 20,000-40,000 Assyrians lived in Syria, most of them residing in settlements along the Khabur River such as Tal Tamer. Today, reports citing local activists say there are around 1,000 Assyrians left in the country, with most having fled Syria.
Syriac Christians are the Aramaic-speaking descendants of the ancient Assyrian people, whose empire came to an end in 612 BC. Other Assyrians live in nearby Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Many have emigrated permanently from the Middle East following violence and persecution.
Video credit: Rutply