Restoration of the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs underway

RAQQA – During the Islamic State’s three-year occupation of the city of Raqqa, the city’s churches were subjected to vandalism, looting, and destruction. Many of the churches were left in ruins.

Among the rubble in the center of the city, near Rashid Park, sits the ruins of the Armenian Catholic Church of the Holy Martyrs, what used to be one of the largest churches in Raqqa. In the years preceding its destruction, the church had been desecrated by ISIS, replaced the cross atop the church with their black banner and used it as an office for the Hisba (religious police) and later a military headquarters.

The Islamic State using the Armenian Catholic Church of the Holy Martyrs as an office for the Hisba (religious police) secretly recorded by two women hired by Swedish Expressen TV. (Image: Expressen TV)

Since the liberation of Raqqa by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in October 2017, the Raqqa Civil Council has worked towards the reconstruction and revitalization of the city.

Although the Church of the Holy Martyrs was demined in December 2017, the church remained in ruins due to a lack of resources.

Six months ago, the Civil Council began the process of restoring the Church of the Holy Martyrs under the supervision of the Religious Affairs Foundation. The first phase, the removal of rubble and debris, was completed a month ago. The second phase, laying the foundation for the new building and the construction of the external walls, is currently underway.

The reconstruction is being funded by the Civil Council.

A member of the six-person team from the Roj Mine Control Organisation, a non-governmental organisation working in Syrian Democrat Forces (SDF) areas, uses a handheld detector to look for explosives in the heavily-damaged Armenian Catholic Church of the Holy Martyrs. As its three-year reign over Raqqa came to an end, the Islamic State planted booby traps across the city, including in the churches. 20 December 2017. (Image: Delil Souleiman / AFP)

Ibrahim Aweys, the head of the Civil Council’s Reconstruction Office, said of the reconstruction effort: “The building of the church indicates the return of brotherhood among the different components of Syrian society, the brotherhood that ISIS mercenaries tried to undermine by planting the seeds of hatred among the people of Syria with false pretexts and arguments, not related to the tolerant reality of Islam.” Aweys stated that the work on the Church of the Holy Martyrs should be completed soon.

Before ISIS occupied Raqqa, thousands of Armenians and Syriacs lived in city, making up about 1% of the population. With reconstruction of the city advancing at a slow pace, and their places of worship only now undergoing restoration, most of the city’s Christian community remains displaced.