Dr. Henry Astarjian Provides Analysis in Armenian Weekly Interview
Militants of the Islamic State (IS) have burned down an Armenian church in Mosul, northern Iraq, reported Erbil-based BasNews. IS insurgents have been continuously destroying churches, shrines, and homes since taking control of the city in 2014.
BasNews cited a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official, Saed Mamuzini, from Mosul as its source. “The church belongs to the Armenian Christians and was regularly used for worship,” Mamuzini was quoted as saying.
The Armenian Weekly contacted Dr. Henry Astarjian, a regular contributor and author of The Struggle for Kirkuk, for his analysis of the situation. “This is a part of ISIS’s fanatic plan to destroy anything and everything which is Christian,” said Astarjian. “Where do Armenians stand you ask? We have no national interest in Iraq. We have no land claims in Iraq, and historically we’ve had no issues with Iraqis. In Mosul, where the general population is Sunni, the locals have helped in establishing a viable Armenian community. They have been only good to us after the genocide, while Armenian know-how and craftsmanship have helped advance civil life in Mosul,” he said.
During World War I, Astarjian’s uncle, Dr. Krikor Abraham Astarjian, was sent to the then-villayet of Mosul as a military doctor. There, between 1915 and 1917, he helped approximately 3,000 Armenian refugees who were deported from Erzurum—and were fleeing the genocide, starved and ravaged—relocate to Mosul.
“This was the beginning of the first organized Armenian community in Mosul,” explained Astarjian. “There were a few prominent Armenian families before the genocide, like the Chakmakians and the Kouyumjians, however, they had no church or school. Most of Mosul’s Armenian community was formed as a result of the Genocide; and the church which was burned now was built by them,” he added.
‘Most of Mosul’s Armenian community was formed as a result of the genocide; and the church which was burned now was built by them.’
It is estimated that more than 25,000 Armenians fled to Iraq during and after the Armenian Genocide. These refugees formed a viable community, establishing churches, religious and political institutions, schools, and cultural and athletic centers across the country.
The roots of the contemporary Iraqi-Armenian community largely stem from Shah Abbas’s forced relocation of the Armenian population to Iran in 1604. At the time, some of the deportees subsequently moved to Iraq, according to historian Hrair Dekmejian’s chapter, “The Armenian Diaspora,” in The Armenian People, which was edited by Richard Hovannisian.
Before the rise of IS, around 15,000 Armenians had remained in Iraq post the U.S. invasion, primarily in the cities of Baghdad, Basrah, Kirkuk, and Mosul. After IS militants took control of Mosul in June 2014, around 60 Armenian families and other Christians fled to the provinces of Kurdistan. Reportedly, there are no Armenians left in Mosul today.
According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), IS has destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, or converted to IS headquarters all 45 Christian institutions in Mosul.
On Jan. 21, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters aided by U.S. airstrikes began a campaign to retake the city of Mosul. Around 5,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters liberated multiple villages around the city, but not the city itself, amid speculation that the Iraqi Army was preparing for an assault on Mosul. The following day, on Jan. 22, the U.S. increased its number of airstrikes near Mosul to a record number of 16. The campaign is ongoing, with increasing U.S. airstrikes.
The extent of the damage to the church is still unclear and the Armenian Weekly was unable to confirm the reports.