Congressional condemnation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) attack on the Armenian Church and Genocide memorial in Deir Zor, Syria began rolling in Monday night amid growing concern regarding Turkey’s relationship with ISIS, it’s obstruction of the U.S.-led coalition operations, and its role in targeting one of the world’s most prominent sites of remembrance for the still unpunished crimes against Armenians and other Christian nations, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“This toxic act of intolerance, aimed at erasing a sacred site of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide on the eve of its centennial, has Turkey’s finger prints all over it,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “Armenian Americans join with people of faith worldwide in voicing our outrage over the desecration and destruction of the Armenian Holy Martyr’s Church and the Armenian Genocide Memorial at Deir Zor, Syria.”
Central Valley Congressman Jim Costa (D) was the first U.S. House member to “strongly condemn” the ISIS attack in a tweet issued on Monday evening.
Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) followed, stating he is “deeply saddened and outraged” by the attack on the church and Genocide museum, noting that the destruction “must be met with a strong international response.” Rep. Pallone went on to note, “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.”
Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) called the attack “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.”
Michigan Congressman Sandy Levin (D-MI) tweeted: “I strongly condemn the reported desecration of an Armenian Genocide memorial in Syria by #ISIL”
Reports of the ISIS attack on the Armenian shrine in Deir Zor – known as the Auschwitz of the Armenian Genocide – surfaced on Sunday, September 21st, as the Republic of Armenia celebrated the 23rd anniversary of its independence. Response from Armenian leaders was swift, with Vigen Sargsyan, the Chief of Staff to the President calling the act “yet another proof of the fact that genocide continues until it’s fully recognized and condemned. And if Turkey has nothing to do with the terrorist act against the Armenian Church, it should immediately come forth with a condemning statement.” The Armenia Foreign Ministry “strongly condemned” the attack by ISIS, noting that “the international community should immediately stop, eradicate this plague, which threatens to civilized world and should uproot the channels of its financing, support and sponsorship.”
His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia called the destruction “an act of barbarism,” and went to state, “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.”
The Armenian Church in Deir Zor was built in 1989-1990, and consecrated a year later. A genocide memorial and a museum housing remains of the victims of the genocide was subsequently constructed in the church compound. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished in Deir Zor and the surrounding desert during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. In summer of 1916 alone, more than 200,000 Armenians, mostly women and children, were brutally massacred there by Ottoman Turkish gendarmes and bands.
Reports of Turkey’s support for ISIS and related extremist groups grow daily, with unchecked oil smuggling helping fund terrorist groups and a porous border allowing foreign jihadis to swell ISIS ranks in Syria and Iraq. NATO member Turkey has thus far refused to join in the international coalition to defeat ISIS or to allow its bases to be used by U.S.-led operations.