Christian militias in Syria
A number of Christian militias have formed in Syria since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. The militias are composed largely of fighters from the various Syriac-Aramean, Assyrian, Arab and Armenian Christian communities in Syria, and are also found amongst Assyrian communities in neighbouring northern Iraq.
Before the war, as much as 10% of the population was Syriac-Aramean, Assyrian, Armenian or Arab Christian, and together they formed one of the largest Christian minorities in the middle east.
In the early days of the civil war, some Christian communities were armed by the Syrian Government to defend themselves against what were seen as threatening sectarian Sunni Islamic rebels.
These formed defence units called Popular Committees. The popular committees do not exist as standalone units, and have now been combined into the Syrian National Defence force, under its formal structure. .
After the spread of the civil war, and the rise of the Islamasist factions, many Christian civilians have fled, in particular in fear of ISIS, who have violently persecuted Christians in the areas that have come under their control Some of those that have stayed had formed militias, largely to protect their own populations from ISIS and other hardline Sunni Islamic factions such as Al Qaeda, Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jund al-Aqsa. While initially forming to protect their own territory, some of the larger militias have gone on the offensive. Christian Militias in Syria either support the Government, or work side by side with the Kurdish forces in Rojava.
By comparison with some of the other armed groups in Syria, Christian militias are usually not large, with the Syriac Military Council being the largest.
Maronite Christians in Lebanon have also formed militias to fight against ISIS incursions from Syria, over the border, and the Assyrians in Iraq have formed well armed militias in the north to protect Assyrian communities, towns and villages in the Assyrian homeland and Nineveh plains.
Syriac Military Council
The Syriac Military Council (Syriac abbreviation: MFS) is largely composed of Assyrian and Armenian Christians, with its headquarters in al-Malikiyah. It is the main armed Christian opposition militia in northeastern Syria, the Hasakah Governorate. It is roughly composed of 1,200 fighters. The group is allied with the mainly-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). The militia has confronted, with their allies, the al-Nusra Front in Tel Hamis in 2013, and finally regained the city in late February 2015. Assyrian forces defended Christian villages of the Khabour area from ISIL attacks, also in 2015. They were also involved in the effort to retake Hasakah, successfully capturing the town from ISIL in conjunction with the YPG. The group is armed mainly with light and some medium weapons, and some armoured vehicles, and has appealed to the West for heavier weapons. The West presently only sends weapons to other rebel groups, but has so far not offered any aid, with the militia sourcing most of its low level weapons locally. In October 2015, the Syriac Military Council was one of the founding components of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Bethnahrin Women's Protection Units
This is a small female-only subunit of the MFS, the formation of which was influenced by the Women's Protection Units.
The Syriac Security Office, or Sutoro, is another militia, based around the city of Qamishli. it is a militia of some 1,200 fighters, and arms checkpoints in Assyrian populated parts of cities, together with Assyrian towns and villages such as Tel Tamr
The Sootoro is another Assyrian militia based only in the city of Qamishli, in the North East Kurdish area. It is aligned with the Syrian regime, and has clashed not only with ISIL, but with the YPG and Sutoro, which it accuses of trying to appropriate Assyrian lands.
Gozarto Protection Force
This is a largely Syriac-Aramean and Arab Christian Militia based in Homs, in Syria's Northwest. It is allied with the Syrian government, and fights in conjunction with the Syrian Army. It has been active in the defense of the majority Christian town of Sadad from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Dwekh Nawsha (DN)
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