This footage shows fighters from the Assyrian Christian Dwekh Nawsha militia at their forward operating base in Baqufa, Iraq, as well as on the frontline where they operate together with Peshmerga units. Since August, Dwekh Nawsha has guarded the village of Baqufa – especially its church – from looters. They also control the road connecting Mosul, the largest city in the Islamic State, and Dohuk, a large Kurdish city currently giving refuge to more than 100.000 displaced persons, many of them Christians.
This specific section of the frontline is very quiet, with no major fighting for the past six months since neither side has any heavy weapons deployed here. Many refugees criticize the militia’s lack of commitment to recapturing their village in the Niniveh area.
This footage shows an ordinary day with Dwekh Nawsha: watching the enemy on the frontline, waiting at the base camp, patrolling the village of Baqufa, staying awake all night to guard the small checkpoint, preparing breakfast for the day shift, cleaning the base and returning home for their week off.
The footage includes interviews with Rama Baito, the social media manager of Dwekh Nawsha; Sargon Logan, a 25-year old bread vendor from the city of Dohuk who joined Dwekh Nawsha three months ago; General Tareq Suliman, the local Peshmerga commander on the frontline near Dohuk; and his second-in-command, Colonel Kerim, who accompanied the journalist to the frontline.
In August 2014, the Islamic State captured a number of Iraqi Christian towns in the area surrounding Mosul, among them Karakosh, the largest Iraqi city with a Christian majority.
While most fled, some Christians organized themselves into militias to defend their villages. One of them is Dwekh Nawsha (‘The Sacrificers’). Since August 2014, they have trained more than 60 fighters from the Ninaveh region of Iraq and control a small part of the frontline north of Mosul near a village called Baqufa. Dwekh Nawsha is not just a militia of Christians, but one fighting for the interests of the ancient Assyrian communities in Iraq. The Assyrians cherish a culture much older than Christianity, but were also one of the first peoples to convert in the 1st century AD. Over the last few months, the Islamic State has destroyed a number of important excavating sites and historical cities of the Assyrians, a people who used to rule over large parts of the Middle East 3.000 years ago.
The interviews were conducted in English and Kurdish.
- [0:01:26 - 0:02:00] Colonel Kerim, Peshmerga one of the Peshmerga commanders for the Ninive area Kerim: You can see the flags. There, over the tower. Sometimes, they are coming through that field. Journalist: It is very flat here. It does make it very easy for Daesh to come here. Kerim: Yes, for both sides it is easy. But it also helps the airplanes. They have no cover.
- [0:02:28 - 0:04:06] Kerim: We have backup in Telskuf behind us and observer forces, special forces. When we get attacked, they are coming. Special forces are in Dohuk, Alqosh. When some area gets attacked by Daesh, they come here fast. We also have a coordination with the operation [HQ] in Dohuk. Journalist: Do you also have informants in Mosul telling you when Daesh is going to attack? Kerim: Yes, we have informants. But we can’t make sure if the information is right or not. Because they are all Arabs. Journalist: How much is a war of information? Kerim: It is a war. Because sometimes we catch some people we think are sneaking information for them. We have people, we have experience. But we don’t have weapons. You cannot make any progress without any weapons. We need weapons and we have money to buy them. But there is no one selling. The Iraqi government is making problems, sometime the Turkish, maybe Iran. And we are hopeful that the United State and other Western countries will help us.
- Rama Baito, social media manager of Dwekh Nawsha [0:11:09 - 0:11:45] Baito: When the Western volunteers came, the first one was Bret, the other ones saw their pics on the page and got motivated. They want to fight for the Assyrian-Christian case in Iraq and they want to defend the case of them. So they message the page and send messages to the admins, me and the others, in order to join. They ask for information how to join.
- [0:11:45 - 0:12:00] Baito: The Dwekh Nawsha need volunteers that have experienced background and military service. Also, we try to look for veterans. That’s the people we can take.
- [0:12:00 - 0:12:36] Baito: Most of the supporters of Dwekh Nawsha are Assyrian Christians. Assyria is our identity and Christianity our religion. Assyrans were the first nation to accept Christianity as a religion in the first century. I don’t want to go back to history - it’s boring. But most supporters of Dwekh Nawsha are Assyrians. But then, there are others who support the Assyrian Christians because they are Christians.
- [0:12:36 - 0:12:48] Baito: People were afraid in the first days when Daesh took the Ninive Planes. But now everything is calm and everything is quiet now.
- [0:12:48 - 0:13:00] Baito: The Iraqi Army and the Peschmerga and everyone who is fighting on this land is our last hope to take down ISIS and live safely.
- [0:13:00 - 0:13:34] Baito: Because of what happened to the Yezidis and the massacres - they got the world attention. Before that, no one knew about the Yezidi but now, everyone knows them. Same with the Christians. They [the Islamic State] wrote the letter ‘n’ on their houses in Mosul and the people fled their houses and the Ninive Planes. Because of this we are now recognized by the world as Assyrian Christians who fled their towns and the city of Mosul.
- [0:13:34 - 0:13:50] Baito: All Christians work together because they believe in Jesus. They support each other during bad situations. In [good and bad] they are together as Christians.
- [0:13:50 - 0:14:06] Baito: If they [Islamic State] break some rocks, it won’t harm us. Our history is not in rocks but in our hearts and our spirit is Assyrian. The world knows who the Assyrians are.
- [0:14:06 - 0:14:23] Baito: Destroying the rocks is better than killing innocent people. Losing some ancient things that are related to Assyrians is not a big deal. Important are the lives of the people.
- General Tareq Suliman, Peshmerga commander of the frontline South of Dohuk [0:14:23 - 0:14:47] Suliman: For the last six months, it has been very quiet. We have no equipment to push forward, so we are on this side and the enemy on the other. Our sector is very important to protect Dohuk and the big dam of Mosul. Suliman: It does not matter if people are Christians or Muslims. We are the same, we are fighting and dying together.
- Sargon Logan, 25 year old volunteer fighter with the Dwekh Nawsha militia [0:14:47 - 0:15:06] Logan: My name is Sargon, I am from Dohuk, I am 25 years old and I joined Dwekh Nawsha about three months ago. And I am here to protect our lands and fight ISIS.
- [0:15:06 - 0:15:34] Logan: You know, I have seen a lot of videos about what ISIS are doing to our people, what they are doing to our churches and the museums and our Christian people. And then I told myself that I must do something. I must help and so something about ISIS and protect our lands.
- [0:15:34 - 0:16:02] Logan: On the frontline, in war, we are Assyrians. We don’t care about anything. We just don’t let anyone humiliate us. We don’t want anyone to kill our people. When we go back home, we are Christians, we go to church, we pray. But in war, we are Assyrians. We don’t care about anything, just fighting.
- [0:16:02 - 0:16:32] Logan: [The] Assyrian civilization was 6.000 years ago. It has many museums. I think the most important museums in the world is Assyrian. Because they have those king statues and eagle statues. They are so important and famous all over the world. I think, [people] who did not know about the Assyrians did not read anything.
- [0:16:32 - 0:16:44] Logan: Statues can be broken, but the name will not be erased. Never. Never will the Assyrian name be erased.
- [0:16:44 - 0:16:57] Logan: This is our motherland. We can’t leave our motherland. We were born here and must not leave our land.
- [0:16:57 - 0:17:24] Logan: To tell the world that the Assyrians are no cowards. They did not vanish from here, we are still here. And are not going anywhere because of Daesh. We are not afraid of anyone. We are Assyrians, we are sons of King Ashur. We are brave men.
- [0:17:24 - 0:17:43] Logan: We are all brothers. We live on one land. There is one saying: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. There is no difference between us and the Peshmerga. We fight the same enemy, Daesh.
- [0:17:43 - 0:17:57] Logan: Sometimes at night, they shoot, they attack, they hit us with mortars and Dushkas [heavy machine guns] - then, the Peshmerga hit them back.
- [0:17:57 - 0:18:29] Logan and his father both serve in the Dwekh Nawsha, they joined at the same time but are in two different units of Dwekh Nawsha. Each shift lasts one week. Logan: We fight together. Me and my father we have a friendly relationship. Me and my father, we are like friends. Not like father and son. And when we switch places - I don’t see my father a lot of time. When he comes here, I am back home - when I come here, he goes home. I stay here until the other group comes. Then, I see my father, hug him and then I go back.
- [0:18:29 - 0:19:07] Logan: At Christmas, I was in Alqosh. We used to be guards at a church in the mountains. We were two guys to protect the church. Now, they have police there and we came back here. At Christmas I was there. I just celebrated on my phone, calling my friends.