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  • HB Mar Meelis Zaia (SBS Radio Assyrian)Source: SBS Radio Assyrian
Australian Assyrian Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaya told SBS he is discussing with the self proclaimed organisation Islamic State ISIS, through a Syrian mediator, to free 230 hostages they are holding. The negotiations include payment of a ransom to free the hostages. Speaking to SBS Radio Assyrian he says the ransom payment his church offered to ISIS hasn't been accepted yet as it doesn't reach the 100,000 amount per hostage requested by ISIS. (Listen to the interview)
Wilson Younan / SBS Radio Assyrian

8 May 2015 - 5:01 PM  UPDATED 23 Jul 2015 - 1:45 PM

Find here the translation into English of the original interview (in Assyrian).
SBS Radio Assyrian broke the story on 28 April 2015.

Wilson: Thank you. As you are aware the conditions of our people in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria are worsening. You mentioned to me this morning that you had new information regarding the hostages captured since the 23/02/2015. What can you relay of this information to our listeners?

Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia: You know Wilson there are 230 hostages, close to 51 are children and girls from as little as 1. 84 are women, young women and older women and the rest of the 95, are men. These people were captured by ISIS and taken out of Al-Hasakah to a place called Jabel “Abdel Aziz” as far as we know they are still there. We have tried to negotiate with the hostage takers, trying to get them to release the hostages.

We have also tried to offer an amount of money so that they can release them under the law called “Al Jizyah” ISIS tax. Unfortunately after a week the mediator returned with news saying that ISIS, want $100,000 for each person captured. We calculated this and it came to approximately twenty three million dollars. We discussed this with Mar Aprem, (Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East in Hassaka, Syria) and came to a decision about what message we have to send to them. The message was that we are a poor community and these people that you have captured are all farmers, they are not people of wealth, the community does not have that kind of money you are requesting. It is very difficult to get that amount of money.

Wilson: Most of our people are currently residing in Europe, America and Australia it is virtually impossible to even raise this kind of money, what do you then plan for the future.

Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia: No they can’t, we are unable to give them this kind of money. However, the Church through Mar Aprem, offered them an undisclosed amount of money, If I could make you aware of the amount you will know what we offered was reasonable and acceptable. We are unable to disclose it now until the situation becomes clearer, however after two days they came back and said the amount you have offered is rejected and from now on do not contact us and we will not communicate any further.

We said we will wait in the hope that they will change their mind. Unfortunately after one week they returned and said the files of these 230 people have been referred to Raqqa the headquarters of ISIS, to the Sharia court and the judge that is there, in that court, will decide what the verdict will be as well as the fate of these 230 people. This has caused us much distress and worry.

Wilson: It is apparent that [the self proclaimed organisation Islamic State] ISIS would try and increase the offer through negotiation, I understand that the 23 million request is impossible nor would they accept 10 or 20 or even 30 thousand dollars. What do you then plan going forward to satisfy their requests.

Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia: Believe me, right now, that the files have gone to Raqqah. We are trying to talk directly to the judge there because maybe the judge will accept the amount we have offered. If I can speak honestly and frankly, it's a story of robbery and corruption there, each person is trying to gain something for themselves out of this. So maybe this judge will find that the requested figure is too big and may accept the offer we have made.

Wilson: It’s like a gang/tribe with everyone trying to make a gain for themselves.

Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia: Yes they are however but these people that we are negotiating with, they are originally from Mosel not Syria...they are from Mosel. But the Church is working hard to find a safe path for these 230 people, it will become a big tragedy if we are unable to do anything and resolve this.

Wilson: Even though there is no ability to trust them, what message are the conveying to you in relation to the condition of the hostages.

Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia: The males have been separated from the women and children. The women and children are all in one place. There is no showering and there is a lack of food. They are living in fear. The men are always threatened. The place where they live is not hygienic. We fear that other things might happen to them. We are working hard and doing our best, we will see how God will help us.

As you are well aware, what is more upsetting, is that we have had 2000 people escape from their villages to Al-Hasakah and some of them went to Al-Qamishli, for the last 2 days, ISIS has attacked villages around Al-Hasakah reaching 1.5 km close to Al-Hasakah. They attacked from three sides, but the Kurdish and Assyrian forces together with the help of the government were able to push them back but when they came in they blow up some cars at the checkpoints.

Wilson: Police station and a check point, south of Al-Hasakah was blown up yesterday.

Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia: Yes, they blew them up and entered from there. The thing that is very scary is that the government in Syria is not strong. In my opinion, the government will not be able to fight for a few more months and my fear is that these people will invade Al-Hasakah.

Today at around 4am, we spoke with Al-Hasakah, we suggested that the young men to think seriously about taking the women, children and the elderly out of Hassaka to Al-Qamishli as Al-Qamishli is stronger and bigger, the Kurdish forces there are stronger, and there is not many Sunni there.

Most of the residents are Kurdish and we have confidence in the government there, then we will reassess what plans we will put in place for their future. I received a message back saying that many people there are in need, they have no money to travel to Al-Qamishli, and it is not that easy.

I suggested for them to consider carefully and to compile a report back to me within 2 days of how they plan to move our people out of Al-Hasaka. I want to know what requests are made by our people so we can find a way to help two thousand Assyrians out from one city to the other city and how much that will cost. I believe all our community abroad will be willing to help these people to get out because at the moment we have 230 hostages, we don't want these two thousand people to fall in the hands of ISIS. As you know this will be very heartbreaking and toxic for us to accept. This is the situation, Wilson, all we can do is work hard and pray.

Wilson: When are you expecting to hear or find any news from them?

Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia: believe me Wilson, there is not a day that goes by that we don't ask and send messages with no response. That is the problem. However on the other hand we are working hard through different channels and groups of people to put a little pressure on them so they can release the hostages.... from here we are trying... possibly in a few days I’m planning to meet with those who have influence, I will see. The current situation in the middle east is not making it easy for us what has happened in Yemen will change the current balance of power, even with Turkey, we were hoping that through the Turkish government we could put pressure on ISIS but the latest movements and demonstrations of the 100 anniversary of the Genocide, as you know, has upset the Turkish government.

Wilson: You’re Beatitude I know you are very busy we appreciate that you have taken the time to talk to us. Thank you very much. Hopefully the next time we speak it will be under better circumstances.
Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia: Through the power of God.... thank you very much.


More information on Assyrian stories in SBS Radio Assyrian