Islamists blow up shrine to Armenians slaughtered by Turks
IN the most savage act of vandalism against Syria's Christians, Islamists have blown up the great Armenian church in Deir el-Zour, built in dedication to the one and a half million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks during the 1915 genocide.
All of the church archives, dating back to 1841 and containing thousands of documents on the Armenian holocaust, were burned to ashes, while the bones of hundreds of genocide victims, packed into the church's crypt in memory of the mass killings 99 years ago, were thrown into the street beside the ruins.
This act of sacrilege will cause huge pain among the Armenians scattered across the world - as well as in the rump state of Armenia which emerged after the 1914-1918 war, not least because many hundreds of thousands of victims died in death camps around the very same city of Deir el-Zour.
Jabhat al-Nusra rebels appear to have been the culprits this time, but since many Syrians believe that the group has received arms from Turkey, the destruction will be regarded by many Armenians as a further stage in their historical annihilation by the descendants of those who perpetrated the genocide 99 years ago.
Turkey, of course, miserably claims there was no genocide - the equivalent of modern day Germany denying the Jewish Holocaust - but hundreds of historians, including one prominent Turkish academic, have proved beyond any doubt that the Armenians were deliberately massacred on the orders of the Ottoman Turkish government across all of modern-day Turkey and inside the desert of what is now northern Syria - the very region where Isis and its kindred ideological armed groups now hold.
Even Israelis refer to the Armenian genocide with the same Hebrew word they use for their own destruction by Nazi Germany: "Shoah", which means "holocaust".
The Armenian priest responsible for the Deir el-Zour district, Monsignor Antranik Ayvazian, revealed to me that before the explosions tore the church apart towards the end of September, he received a message from the Islamists promising to spare the church archives if he acknowledged them as the legislative authority in that part of Syria.
"I refused," he said. "And after I refused, they destroyed all our papers and endowments. The only genocide victims' bones left were further north in the Murgada sanctuary and I buried them before I left. They destroyed the church there, but now if I could go back, I don't even know if I could find where I put the bones."
Msr Ayvazian later received a photograph taken in secret and smuggled to him from the Isis-controlled area, showing clearly that only part of the central tower of the Deir el-Zour church, built in 1846 and renovated 43 years later, remains.
Every Armenian who has returned to the killing fields of the genocide has prayed at the church.