ROME— An ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber tried to kill an Orthodox Syrian Christian patriarch on Sunday, during a special ceremony commemorating the 101 anniversary of the Ottoman genocide against Armenians and Assyrians.
Three people were killed and dozens injured, but Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II was unharmed.
The attack occurred on Sunday, in the Syrian city of Qamshi, in the border of Turkey and Syria. Its Christian population has witnessed regular suicide bombings, often orchestrated by the terrorist Islamic organization ISIS.
Amprem II was being guarded by the Sotoro, a Christian militia based in Syria’s northeast region. According to local reports, the guards stopped the bomber outside the church where the ceremony was being held. He detonated the belt of explosives outside the hall, killing himself and three members of the militia.
This was the fourth attack on Assyrian Christians in Qamishle in the last six months. On Dec. 30, 16 people were killed by three explosions targeting the minority group. 25 days later, two explosions rocked the Assyrian neighborhood in the city, killing at least three and injuring dozens.
On May 22, an ISIS attack in the same district killed five and injured many.
The Syriac Orthodox Church, also known as the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, is an Oriental Orthodox church based in the Eastern Mediterranean, with an estimated five million faithful, most of whom live in diaspora in Sweden, India, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The attack against Amprem II during the commemoration of the genocide comes days before Pope Francis’ visit to Armenia, on June 24-26, where he’s expected to once again condemn the killings, as he’s done several times before, referring to it as “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
Although it’s often called the “Armenian genocide”, the ethnic cleansing campaign beginning in 1915 by the Ottoman empire, today’s Turkey, also included other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups, such as the Assyrians and Ottoman Greeks.
An estimated 150,000–300,000 Assyrians were killed between 1914 and 1920.
Since the Syrian war began in 2011, Christians have often been targets of religious violence. Thousands have been forced from their homes by hardline Islamist rebels and jihadist militias. Just as in Iraq, in areas seized by ISIS, Christians have been forced to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or be killed.
Thousands are feared to have been kidnapped, including Syriac Orthodox Archbishop John Ibrahim, and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi, both of whom have been missing since 2013.
The Christian community in Syria is considered one of oldest in the world, going back two millennia. The vast majority belong to Eastern denominations: The largest and oldest is the Greek Orthodox Church, which has about 500,000 members. The Armenian Apostolic Church has between 110,000 and 160,000, and the Syriac Orthodox Church about 90,000.
Among the churches in communion with Rome, the largest is the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, with between 118,000 and 240,000 members.