QAMISHLI, Syria (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Islamic State (ISIS) has officially claimed responsibility for a vicious gun attack on Monday that left two Armenian priests dead and a deacon injured.
International Christian Concern (ICC) reported that Fr. Hanna Bidu, his son, Fr. Hovsep Petoyan, and Deacon Fati Sano were traveling within Syria from Qamishli to Deir ez-Zor to inspect an Armenian Catholic Church that had been damaged in Syria's ongoing civil war.
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on their car, killing Bidu instantly, fatally wounding Petoyan who died later in the hospital and wounding Sano.
Bullet holes can be seen in the seats and windshield of the car in footage posted by Hewar News of civilians exploring the vehicle after the attacks.
Church Militant spoke with Claire Evans, ICC's regional manager for the Middle East, about the attack.
She told Church Militant that the funeral liturgies for the two priests were held on Tuesday and explained the gravity of the current situation in Syria, especially for Christians.
"These two priests sadly join a long list of Christian religious leaders who have been killed or disappeared since the beginning of the Syrian conflict," said Evans.
Evans explained that northeastern Syria was becoming a safe haven for religious diversity until Turkey invaded in October, shattering that safety.
Syrian Christians are now facing two threats, one from Turkey and another from ISIS, said Evans: "The situation is a sad reminder that Syrian Christians are facing two threats: Turkey and ISIS."
She explained the situation further: "Islamic extremists backed by Turkey were given free rein to target anyone who doesn't conform. It is little wonder that we are seeing a reassertion and emboldening of ISIS within the past few weeks."
Qamishli is a city in northeast Syria that borders Turkey and is inhabited mostly by Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds and Armenians. The city is considered a Christian center in Syria with roughly 2,000 Armenian Catholics.
Egypt Independent reports that there were also three simultaneous bombings on Monday in Qamishli — two car bombs and a motorcycle rigged with explosives blew up near a school and several churches as well as in a busy market.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that six civilians have been killed and 23 have been injured. Three of those injuries were critical and the victims were taken to the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
The Ottoman Empire launched campaigns to displace and murder Armenians at the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
The forced deportations and displacements were established to kill the Armenians by marching them under harsh conditions. By these deportations along with direct massacres, researchers have estimated that somewhere between 1–1.5 million Armenian victims were murdered.
The city to which the two priests and deacon were traveling, Deir ez-Zor, was the last place the Ottoman Empire sent Armenian caravans with the plan to have Arabs kill them.
The people of Deir ez-Zor, however, were opposed to the genocide that was unfolding and took pity on the caravans. The mayor at the time, Haj Fadel Al-Aboud, provided safety, work, food and shelter, bringing the Ottoman Empire's plan to nought.
Speaking of the Armenian priests who were assassinated and mindful of this history, Evans noted that these murders are particularly troubling: "This tragedy is further compounded with the knowledge that the ancestors of these two priests survived the 1915 Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey, only for their children to fall victim to an ISIS genocide."
"We cannot make the mistake of thinking that ISIS is defeated and that Turkey's invasion will have no consequences for Christians," she added.