The latest propaganda efforts by the Islamic State focus on two minority populations resisting its advances across Syria and Iraq: Assyrian Christians and Iraqi Kurds.
Two videos, which the group’s media machine released on Monday, showcase very different attempts to intimidate and subjugate the region’s minorities. In the 6-minute “From Darkness to Light,” an Assyrian Christian man cheerfully claims to have embraced Islam. By contrast, “A Message to the People of Kurdistan” is 25 minutes long and ends with the apparent on-camera execution of a prisoner.
The first video was produced by Wilayat al-Baraka, the terrorists’ affiliate in the Syrian province of Hasakah. In unsubtitled Arabic, a militant fighter introduces a man who he says was a “cross worshiper” named Sargon — a traditional Assyrian name — but was renamed Abu Umar after accepting Islam. He allegedly “was convinced and chose this path” after being imprisoned by the jihadis and observing his captors praying.
The video also includes footage of its subject praying alongside militants and sharing a meal with them. He claims that “my Islam is voluntary, not forced,” but does not speak about Christian theology. This may indicate that the individual in question is simply playing the role of a captured Christian.
The Assyrians, an ethnic group that has been predominantly Christian since the very first centuries of the faith, inhabit areas of the Middle East that include the terrorists’ Iraqi and Syrian territories. In Iraq, some have formed militias in the northern region of Kurdistan to which they have fled. (RELATED: ISIS Makes Big Move On Christian Villages)
Monday’s other video, targeting the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, was produced by a more central media group within ISIS and consequently enjoys more polished editing. It features four Kurdish-speaking fighters who rail against President Barack Obama, “the ape in the White House,” and his tacit backing of Kurdistan’s secular left-wing authorities against the jihadis. The video is subtitled in Arabic, but its speakers seem to be addressing an audience of Kurds.
The militants also call Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, a “dwarf” and a heretic, “reared among the Jews.” Pointing to historic Kurds who they say have fought for Islam, including the Crusades-era commander Saladin, they loudly reject all forms of nationalism that create rifts among Muslims.
They then present a man whom they identify as a captured member of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia resisting their advances in Iraq. After the prisoner explains to the camera that Kurdistan’s government has refused to consider a hostage exchange, the men shoot him in the head.
One of the speakers in the video was killed in combat in November 2014, leading some analysts to speculate why the group waited until now to release it to the public.
The message comports with previous propaganda efforts by the group, which claims to represent the only valid Islamic viewpoint, denouncing Muslims who reject its authority as infidels and apostates. The Kurds mostly espouse a much more peaceful form of Sunni Muslims than ISIS. Their semi-independent regional government in Iraq is politically dominated by socialist and nationalist parties.
The video came to light just days after one in which jihadis beheaded three Peshmerga fighters. The earlier video was timed for release on Nowruz, the pre-Islamic Persian solar New Year festival which Kurds celebrate under the name Newroz.
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