Jacques Behnan Hindo walks around his house and puts on his uniform. He has lived in Hasakah, located in northern Syria, for 50 years and is the city’s diocesan bishop. Although inhabited predominately by Arabs and Kurds, Hasakah retains a sizeable population of Assyrian Christians.
Together with other ethnic groups, such as Armenians, Christians in Syria are part of the rich tapestry of Syria’s ethno-religious fabric.
In recent weeks, however, tensions have been rising in Hasakah Province. Although the city remains under the de facto administration of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), there is a small government enclave to the east of the city, and an even smaller district, which mostly houses administrative buildings, in the city centre.
These tensions have been fanned by the ongoing assaults on Deir ez-Zour. On the northern side of the city, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is mostly led by the PYD’s armed faction the People’s Protection Units (YPG), are leading an ongoing campaign to oust ISIS from the city and prevent the Syrian Army from taking the city from the southern side.
However, these attempts have brought the SDF and the SAA into close contact with each other, occasionally pushing them into open conflict. This increased tension has transferred to the fault lines of the PYD and Syrian Army administered areas in Hasakah, with reports of small-scale clashes taking place.
Subsequently, minority groups like Assyrian Christians have suffered from the spill over of this heightened tension. It reflects the plight of Christians in Syria and in wider the region, who have often been the object of violence of numerous groups.
Standing outside, Jacques highlights a bullet hole that pierced the walls of his church. “They fired from the windows we see there, it’s a warning,” said Jacques. “They want to silence me but I will not be silenced. I will not allow them to take away my identity, my liberty, and the freedom of the people.”
He continues, defiantly and unintimidated, “When the entire community of the parish church leaves, then I will leave, but if they stay here I will not leave my country; I will not leave.”