“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul”-Matthew 10:28

The two images placed side-by-side were taken only a few months apart. To the left, a young Mariam Talya, weeps tears of joy wrapping her arms around her beloved brother, Akkad Basil Talya, after gaining her freedom from Islamic State group (IS) captors. To the right, she screams, deep in mourning over the death of Akkad, who died fighting the same evil forces who kept her prisoner this week. As Assyrian writer Nineb Lamassu described in a Facebook post on Tuesday, “Nothing depicts the Assyrian struggle for survival more than these two pictures.” These images capture both our struggle and define the true Assyrian spirit: one of self-sacrifice, deep love of family, and commitment to our unwavering struggle for survival in a land rife with conflict.

On August 27 around 6 a.m., Akkad, who was in his early twenties, was killed by an IS-planted mine in Sheddade, Hasakah Governorate, Syria. According to the Syriac International News Agency, Akkad was a brave fighter and in every battle he was on the frontline defending his people. He fought in operations against IS in Shingal, Tell Hamis, Ras al-Ayn, Khabour, al-Hol, and Sheddade. His spirit and name will live on as a great martyr of Assyria a man who refused to give up and leave his native home, thus making the ultimate sacrifice so that other Christians may live in a land eradicated of IS.

When the Syrian Civil War began, he joined the Assyrian militias Khabour Guards and Syriac Military Council with his rifle to protect his people. Tragically, 253 Assyrian Christians from 35 different villages along the Khabur river were kidnapped by IS on February 23, 2015, and taken hostage in Sheddade. IS militants not only invaded his village in Khabour, and destroyed his home, but also kidnapped his beloved sister, Mariam, and other family members. In the face of such evil he fought to secure her and other captives’ return to safety.

His efforts were not in vain. Though Mariam was one of the last hostages to be released, she gained her freedom earlier this year. The actions of his life show he never lost hope in his people’s destiny to survive and eventually thrive. Despite the uncertainty and darkness that define these times for Assyrians, in both Iraq and Syria, Akkad married the love of his life, Samar George, just three months ago and now she is expecting his child.

Akkad Basil Talya is survived by his wife and unborn child. Image: AINA

Akkad Basil Talya is survived by his wife, Samar George,  and unborn child. Image: AINA

Though in body he is gone, our brother’s self-sacrifice to answer the cries of his people and heal our wounds will never be forgotten. He is a true son of Assyria: a man who sacrificed the love of his wife and that first glance into his child’s eyes, so that his brothers and sisters may remain free. His spirit will live on. Our martyrs never die.

Rest in peace, hero.

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