Seven ethnic Armenians have been kidnapped near the war-stricken Syrian city of Aleppo, local Armenian sources and the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan said on Tuesday.
A spokesman for a Syrian diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Zhirayr Reisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that they as well as three other individuals were stopped and forced off a bus on their way from Lebanon’s capital Beirut to Aleppo on Monday.
Armenia’s Foreign Ministry identified five of those Armenians and said it is trying to clarify the others’ names. The ministry said their whereabouts remain unknown.
Both Reisian and ministry sources said that the reported kidnapping was most probably the work of Syrian rebel groups fighting forces loyal to the beleaguered President Bashar al-Assad.
The incident was reported two days after an Armenian church in Aleppo was seriously damaged by fire. Reisian could say who was behind the apparent arson attack. He suggested that it did not necessarily target the city’s sizable Armenian community, arguing that many mosques have also been damaged or even destroyed during Syria’s bloody civil war.
The Surp Gevorg (St. George) church is located at a scene of continuing fighting between the Syrian army and rebels. In Reisian’s words, Syrian government soldiers stationed in the now deserted area enabled Armenian community representatives to briefly visit the church and take photographs of the damage.