Armenia’s Foreign Ministry deplored on Thursday the reported destruction of yet another Armenian church in Syria beset by a bloody civil war.
News reports from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo said the local 15th century Church of Forty Martyrs was targeted this week by rebel forces fighting government troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Some sources said the church located in the city’s predominantly Christian Jdeydeh district was torn down by a powerful bomb placed underneath it. But others claimed that the destruction was caused artillery fire from rebel positions.
Tigran Balayan, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan, commented on the “alarming reports” in a Twitter post. “The evil must be stopped,” he wrote.
A spokesman for the Aleppo diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church suggested that the rebels did not specifically target the city’s oldest Armenian worship site. Zhirayr Reisian argued that Jdeydeh is very close to a scene of fierce fighting between the warring sides.
“The whole district has been subjected to shelling,” Reisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone. “Nearby churches and many other structures have sustained even more damage. How can I say that we are the [only] target?”
Zarmig Boghigian, a journalist with the local Armenian newspaper “Gandzasar,” insisted that the rebels have deliberately fired on Armenian and other Christian churches since Sunday. “They have dropped more than 100 gas tanks filled with explosives on the area’s churches and cultural and historic sites,” Boghigian said from Aleppo. “They did that with the aim of devastation as there is no population left there.”
The Church of Forty Martyrs is the third Syrian Armenian religious site known to have been fully or partly destroyed in the past eight months. In January, Aleppo’s Armenian Catholic Church of Saint Rita was severely damaged by shelling blamed on Islamist rebels.
Another church located in Deir ez-Zor, eastern Syria, was blown up in September. The Saint Martyrs’ Church was part of an Armenian genocide memorial complex built in 1989-1991. Armenia as well as the United States and other Western powers blamed Islamic State (ISIS) militants for its destruction.
Another Armenian church in Aleppo, Surb Gevorg (Saint George), was looted and burned down in 2012.
Aleppo was home to the majority of at least 60,000 ethnic Armenians who lived in Syria before the outbreak of the brutal conflict in 2011. Virtually all of them are descendants of Armenian genocide survivors.
The Syrian Armenian community has shrunk dramatically in the past four years. It remains mostly concentrated in Aleppo.
Fighting in and around the war-ravaged city has intensified in recent weeks, leading to calls for official Yerevan to help evacuate the Armenians remaining there. Syrian Armenian leaders have spoken out against a mass evacuation, saying that they still hope to preserve the once thriving community.