Armenia hailed on Monday the Syrian government army’s recapture of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).
“We welcome the liberation of Palmyra,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said on its Twitter page. “World cultural heritage should be preserved.”
Backed by heavy Russian air support, troops loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad drove ISIS forces out of Palmyra on Sunday -- one of the biggest setbacks suffered by the extremist Islamist group since it declared a caliphate in 2014 across large parts of Syria and Iraq. The city’s liberation may have paved the way for their offensive against the ISIS strongholds of Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor.
The ISIS was blamed by Armenia, the United States and other Western powers for the destruction in September 2014 of an Armenian church in Deir ez-Zor. The Saint Martyrs’ Church was part of a memorial complex to some 1.5 million victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. Many of them were starved to death in the desert surrounding Deir ez-Zor.
Foreign Minister Nalbandian mentioned the church destruction when he visited Syria in May 2015. Speaking at a news conference in Damascus, Nalbandian blamed Islamist “terrorists” for the continuing bloodshed in Syria.
Armenia remains among the few countries that have functioning diplomatic missions in Syria. The missions have helped thousands Syrian nationals of Armenian descent flee the country and take refuge in Armenia.
An estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most of them descendants of survivors of the 1915 genocide, lived in Syria before the outbreak of the bloody civil war there five years ago. Only up to 10,000 of them reportedly remain in the war-ravaged country now. More than 16,000 Syrian Armenians currently live in Armenia.