In June, the Islamic State overtook Mosul—the second largest city in Iraq and home to many ethnic and religious minorities, including hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians. Mosul is now governed under sharia law. All Christian institutions have been destroyed or taken over. About 200,000 Assyrians have fled their homes.
Amidst this crisis, a small mutual-aid group is offering lifesaving help. The Assyrian Aid Society was established in Iraq in 1991, and simultaneously in America, where at least 350,000 Assyrian immigrants are prospering, concentrated in Detroit, Chicago, and northern California. The society has long operated 61 schools in northern Iraq where children learn the rich history of Assyrian Catholics (stretching back to the earliest years of Christianity), and a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
In the current crisis, the AAS has converted its rural schools into refugee camps where thousands of families have been sheltered and kept alive. The society’s work in Iraq has been fueled by $20,000 a week wired from a U.S. bank account to a Lebanese bank, where AAS members withdraw the funds and buy provisions from Turkish sources. Someone takes a photo or video to show proof of purchase and receipt, and then supplies are distributed throughout the region, concentrating in areas not yet accessible to international agencies.
AAS runs its operations at very little cost. One full-time staff member serves as an office manager, while its 17 board members and dozens of volunteers donate their time. Long supported by individual contributions from the Assyrian diaspora, AAS has also recently begun receiving donations from U.S. churches wishing to help these endangered representatives of one of the original branches of the Christian faith.