The damage caused by arson

Arson Guts San Francisco Armenian Church Cultural Center

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SAN FRANCISCO (Combined Sources) — The building next to St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco was set on fire at approximately 4 a.m. on September 17.

Police and fire officials confirmed that it was a case of arson.

Though the San Francisco Fire Department immediately responded, the building suffered great damage, with two out of four floors gutted.

The building serves as a community center housing Vasbouragan Hall, an auditorium, as well as offices for the church, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Kristapor Chapter, Armenian National Committee of America-San Francisco, and local Homenetmen, Armenian Relief Society, Hamazkayin and Armenian Youth Federation Chapters, according to Asbarez.com.

The fire department as well as the San Francisco Police Department are investigating.

This attack follows the vandalism at the end of this July of the Krouzian Zekarian Vasbouragan Armenian School and its adjacent community center, the walls of which were covered with profanity, anti-Armenian slogans and the colors of the Azerbaijani flag.

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(In even more disturbing news, according to the CBS affiliate in San Francisco over the weekend shots were fired at the school, sparking a new hate crime investigation — the third hate crime against an Armenian establishment in the city within the last two months.

Around 2:25 a.m. Saturday, officers patrolling the city’s Stonestown neighborhood heard gunshots near the Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan Armenian School at 825 Brotherhood Way.

No injuries were reported, but according to San Francisco police, the school’s sign was damaged.)

Rostom Aintablian, chairman of the church’s Board of the Trustees, said: “They set three different fires, two on the bottom floor, and one on the middle floor. We do think it’s arson.”

The bottom and middle floor are almost completely burned out and the church offices gone, while the overall structure remains intact, according to Aintablian.

Aintablian believes the fire is a hate crime and stems from years of tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. “We know our history, we know who our enemies are,” he said. “We think it has something to do with the war in our country. We don’t know for sure, but deep inside me tells me it has something to do with this. Or else it doesn’t make sense to me for someone to come in the middle of the night and set fires in the building.”

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin condemned the act with a message on Twitter. “This is an outrage,” Boudin wrote. “The Armenian community of San Francisco woke up today to an arson at their church. There is no room for this cowardly, hateful, criminal conduct in San Francisco. We stand with the Armenian community against hate!”

Alex Bastian, deputy chief of staff for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, also called the fire a cowardly act and posted images of the damaged building on Twitter.

“For some context, in our history and around the globe, every time Armenians have been targeted, they come for our churches and our schools,” tweeted Bastian, who was baptized in the church. “But you know what? It’s very hard to terrorize my community, no matter how hard people try. We are hardened by the millennia of hardship and the centuries of injustice. Most of us in the community are refugees, or the children of refugees, from war zones around the world.”

Bastian said he believes the fire is related to the vandalism of San Francisco’s Armenian School Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan in July. The school provided surveillance video to the San Francisco Police showing men covering walls with hateful and racist graffiti.

“Attacks against our community are escalating, from vandalism – to arson – to unfortunately whatever is next,” Bastian wrote.

San Francisco resident Raffi Gharakhanian watched on Thursday as community members arrived to see the damage at the church building. He said although he is not a member of the church, he felt compelled to show up as an Armenian.

“It is disappointing to see hate crimes against Armenians. It happens all over the world but this hits close to home. I felt it was important to be here.”

Rep. Adam Schiff issued a statement: “For Armenians around the world, but especially in our California community, this hits close to home. The devastating fire – caused by arson – at St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco is despicable. Those responsible for this act of hate must be swiftly brought to justice.

“Across the country, hate crimes are on the rise. And for the Armenian community, hate directed towards the community is nothing new – from vandalizing churches, to tearing down flags, and even violence. We must all condemn hate, wherever it is seen, however it manifests.”

 

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