US Officials and Armenians Condemn Destruction of Armenian Church and Genocide Memorial at Deir Zor, Syria


 

WASHINGTON — On the same day as millions of Armenians in Armenia and around the world marked the 23rd anniversary of independence of the Republic of Armenia, Sunday, September 21, terrorists belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) destroyed the Armenian Church and Genocide Memorial in Deir Zor, Syria. Reports began to surface early Monday morning, prompting swift rebukes from members of Congress, the US government, and the Armenian-American community.

The US Embassy in Yerevan on September 24 released the following statement: “US Embassy Yerevan joins the government and people of Armenia in strongly condemning the destruction of the Armenian Church in Deir Ez-zor, Syria. This senseless act of destruction demonstrates yet again the utter disregard the terrorist organization ISIL has for the rich religious and cultural heritage of the Middle East. As Secretary Kerry has stated, ISIL has systematically committed abuses of human rights and international law and presents a global terrorist threat. Faced with this threat, the United States urges the international community to strengthen our united effort to degrade and destroy ISIL.”

“Armenian Americans are appalled at the destruction of the Armenian Holy Martyrs Church and the Armenian Genocide Memorial at Der Zor, Syria,” stated Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “For Armenians across the globe it evokes painful memories of the past wherein the Genocide of 1915 claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians, as well as Turkey’s ongoing and shameful campaign of genocide denial,” he said.

Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), condemned the attack in the strongest of terms. “I am deeply saddened and outraged by the destruction of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir ez-Zor,” he said. “This church stood to commemorate and honor the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who died on the march to Deir ez-Zor.  At the order of the Ottoman Turks, Armenian refugees were sent to die in Deir ez-Zor as part of the 20th century’s first genocide.  The destruction of the church memorializing this terrible point in history must be met with a strong international response.

He continued: “The United States government and other international partners in the region must work to protect religious minorities and to ensure that Armenian Christians are not targeted for such appalling acts.  As the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide approaches, we must remember that it is our duty to stand against the targeting of Armenians all around the world and to prevent any further targeted violence.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead sponsor of the Armenian Genocide resolution, said that “The reported destruction by ISIL of the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Der Zor, Syria is yet another example of the sickening barbarity that has terrorized millions across Iraq and Syria. The fact that the church was dedicated to those lost in the genocide is both especially poignant, and a chilling foreshadowing of how ISIL would treat Syria’s Christians if it were to further expand their territorial gains. We need to support the international coalition that is currently engaging in strikes to help the people of Syria and Iraq rid themselves of this cancer.”

Some members of Congress condemned the attacks on their social media accounts, where the terrorist group is said to have a significant presence. “[I] strongly condemn the reported desecration of an Armenian Genocide memorial in Syria by #ISIL,” California Rep. Jim Costa tweeted the day after reports surfaced. Michigan Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) tweeted the same on September 23.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who is of Armenian ancestry, said “ISIL’s actions can only be viewed as a barbaric act of terrorism. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were forced to march to the deserts of Der Zor, where they lived in concentration camps until their brutal extermination. The Armenian Genocide Memorial Church commemorates these men, women, and children, along with the more than 1.5 million Armenians who were systematically annihilated by the Ottoman Empire. As a proud member of the Armenian community, my relatives and ancestors are included in this figure. If my mother had been born in Yerevan instead of Fresno, she too may have been a target. This consecrated church stood as a reminder of the terrible consequences of hateful ideology and violence. We must remember these lessons as ISIL threatens Armenians, Kurds, Jews, Muslims, and Christians today.”

His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia described the destruction as “an act of barbarism.” “May those standing behind this plot know that Deir ez-Zor, which symbolizes our martyrs’ memory and our nation’s struggle for justice, will never be destroyed as a sacred place in our nation’s collective memory,” he said.

Der Zor was designated by the Young Turks authorities as a destination point and final killing center of the Armenian deportees. Those who survived the death marches were brought to the desert of Der Zor and murdered in this area. The desert contains a large number of mass graves. Many historians refer to Der Zor as the Auschwitz of the Armenians.

In 1990, the Armenian Holy Martyrs Church and Genocide Memorial dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide was officially consecrated. The memorial consisted of a large circular glass display of genocide victims’ remains, out of which grows a white-marble tower, flanked by khachkars, or stone crosses. Each year pilgrimages were made to the monument from Syria and Lebanon organized by the Armenian Apostolic Church of Aleppo.