Armenian Church Torched, as Fighting over Mosul Intensifies

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.

Armenians celebrate Diarentarach at the St. Etchmiadzin Church in Mosul in February 2014. (Photo: Iraqi Armenians Facebook page)
Armenians celebrate Diarentarach at the St. Etchmiadzin Church in Mosul in February 2014. (Photo: Iraqi Armenians Facebook page)

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.

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Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly. His writings primarily focus on politics, human rights, community, literature, and Armenian culture. He has reported from Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), Turkey, Canada, the United States, and Western Armenia. He has served on the local and national executives of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada and Hamazkayin Toronto, and served as the administrator of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Toronto. Janbazian also taught Armenian History and Creative Writing at the ARS Armenian Private School of Toronto, and has worked on several translations.

7 Comments

  1. The good works of these god’s servants will be missed as the cloaks made by Dorcas. As Dorcas they will arise to increased strength and life and many under Satans grip will be won by his desperate attempts to put out light shining from the heart of God, His sons and daughters of light.

  2. THESE BARBARIANS THAT HAVE NO HUMANITY IN THEM SHOULD BE DESTROYED FOR CAUSING TERRIBLE INHUMAN SUFFERINGS ON THE INNOCENT.. I SOLUTE THE KURDS AND THE COALITION FORCES FOR DEFEATING THESE ANIMALS IN KOBANE AND HOPEFULLY VERY SOON IN MOSUL IRAQ AND SYRIA. THE KURDS DESERVE TO LIVE IN PEACE AND FREEDOM

  3. I have never understood, why after the our genocide we didn’t pack up and left these countries. Muslims never liked us anyway. We had to learn this in hard way. Well, now we do! A Radical Muslim wants to get rid of us and moderate Muslim wants the radical Muslim to do the dirty job. These are not humans, these are subhumans equal to Barbarians and Nazis.
    I just don’t get it.It is matter of time before they get more in numbers exponentially and take over all of the middle east. We have been massacred number of times in history. Why we don’t get of these places. A place with a mosque and we DO NOT Belong there. These savages have no mercy on Christian values. In fact they have no mercy on any value system. This is what they want a Caliphate!
    I just hope we intensify our Aerial campaign to take these savages back to Flintstones times.

  4. Does anyone doubt that this is a continuation of what the Ottomans started a hundred years ago to create a Sunni empire. Read the news, see the parallels, back then the Turks used the Kurds to empty historic Armenia from its indigenous Christian population, and now a band of rabid Muslim barbarians called ISIS is doing their bidding. Hope some day this blows up in sultan Erodgan’s face.

  5. The right to bear arms shall not be infringed. Once again history repeats itself. If every non Muslim was armed the outcome would be different. Learn to shoot, and carry every day, no more excuses.

  6. You got it right Vazken.The Turks are telling us we are going to continue to destroy you. Another thing is that Armenians should have armed themselves and fight at the side of the kurds.It is time to move to Armenia or Artsakh.The Armenian government must realize that by now we need more soldiers in Armenia.Turkey will do anything to get rid of Armenia and Artsakh.And believe me Russia will not budge,they themselves want Armenia without Armenians.

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