Like the other Christians, Sarkis Kirbukiyle packed what he could and fled when ISIS militants captured his home-town.
The 57-year-old had lived in the same small apartment for 35 years, his bedroom window looking onto the quiet courtyard of the Armenian church in Tel Abyad, a town on the Syrian border with Turkey that fell to ISIS in June 2014. Taking refuge with relatives, he was restless and bored — until he got a call from an old friend.
The friend, a Muslim, had charted a far different course through Syria’s civil war, radicalising and becoming an official with ISIS. he still valued his friendship with Kirbukiyle, and warned him that if he didn’t return to Tel Abyad, the jihadis would confiscate everything he owned.
The only way to avoid this, the friend said, was to pay jizya, the ancient tax levied on them during the times of Islamic caliphates — an era that ISIS, in its own extremist fashion, was trying to reclaim.
Kirbukiyle thought it sounded too dangerous: You cannot trust them; they can behead a person very easily. The friend promised to protect him if he followed the rules and paid the taxes.
Afraid but determined to go home, Kirbukiyle returned to a town that was in the grip of ISIS’s fanatical vision of Islam. He entered a building that had been converted into a religious court and paid jizya — which the jihadis calculated by estimating his net worth — of 107,000 Syrian pounds (about $566) for the year.
From there, Kirbukiyle would experience the strange and precarious life of a Christian inside ISIS’s hardline proto-state. He witnessed some of the horrors the militants inflicted on their subjects — and saw the contrast between the Islam he’d known and respected from his neighbours and the alien barbarism ISIS practised in its name.
He added: “Before ISIS came, Muslim people were my neighbours and my friends. No one insulted me before, and no one told me I’m an infidel. They respect me and I respect them. But ISIS, they just came to destroy the country.”
Ethnic Kurdish forces drove ISIS from Tel Abyad in summer 2015, lifting the “nightmare” that had literally kept him awake and still haunts him to this day. “It’s a nightmare that comes to me every night,” he said.
- Pray for Kirbukiyle, and for many Syrian and Iraqi Christians who live with the trauma of ISIS and daily fear for their lives. Pray for the comforting presence of God to surround them and their families day by day.
- Pray for protection for Christians in Syria and Iraq, who are targeted by violence and persecution.
- Pray for a move of the Holy Spirit across these nations, and for many in ISIS to encounter the truth of Jesus in life changing ways.
- Pray for peace in Syria, Iraq and across the Middle East.
Nehemiah 4 vs 8: “So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.”
Source: To read Sarkis Kirbukiyle’s full story: http://www.buzzfeed.com