Islamic State jihadists, also known as ISIS, have destroyed an Armenian church in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, a memorial to the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
The sixth-largest city in Syria, Deir ez-Zor has a Kurdish majority and was conquered by ISIS insurgents in past days.
Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian issued a statement condemning the desecration of the church, calling it a “horrible barbarity.”
Nalbandian further called upon the international community to cut the sources of supply, support, and financing to ISIS and eradicate what he referred to as a disease that “threatens civilized mankind.”
The Holy Martyrs Church contains the remains of victims of the Armenian Genocide and is often compared to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were said to have died during the march to Deir ez-Zor, which was ordered by Ottoman Turk soldiers.
The Holy Martyrs Church served as a pilgrimage site for Armenians living in Syria and neighboring countries. Every year, on April 24, special commemoration ceremonies attended by thousands of people have been held at the site.
The reports of the descration surfaced just as Armenia was celebrating the 23rd anniversary of its independence on September 21.
U.S. Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) has denounced the destruction of the Church. “I strongly condemn the reported desecration of an Armenian Genocide memorial in Syria by the Islamic State,” Rep. Costa said in a Twitter post.
The church was consecrated in 1991 as a memorial of the genocide of Armenian Christians in which some 1.5 million people were killed.
Armenians mark April 24, 1915, when several hundred Armenian intellectuals were rounded up, arrested, and later executed, as the start of the Armenian Genocide, which is generally understood to have extended to 1917.
Figures compiled by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies show that there were 2,133,190 Armenians in the empire in 1914 and only about 387,800 by 1922.
Armenia has been planning an international event dedicated to the memory of the Armenian Genocide victims, which will be organized in April 2015, the centennial of the genocide.
This past August, ISIS jihadists killed hundreds of members of local tribal clans in Deir ez-Zor and in recent months have also fought with militiamen of the rival Islamist faction al-Nusra for control of the area.