A synagogue in Yerevan, Armenia was set on fire on Wednesday evening in an antisemitic arson attack, the second incident targeting the city’s Jewish community since last month, according to several reports and video circulating on social media.
The Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) claimed responsibility for attacking the Mordechai Navi Synagogue, the only Jewish place of worship operating in the country, Azerbaijani media and other sources reported.
Azerbaijani Ambassador to Germany Nasimi Aghayev was among those who shared footage of the synagogue attack on social media.
Armenian authorities said on Thursday that they had opened an investigation into the arson attack.
“On Nov. 15, the police received a call that unknown persons wanted to set fire to the doors of the building at 23 Nar-Dos Street in Yerevan,” local police told AFP. “An investigation has been launched.”
No one was reportedly in the building at the time of the incident. Rima Varzhapetyan, the president of Armenia’s Jewish community, said that the synagogue had not been seriously damaged.
“We are horrified because Jews have never had any problems in Armenia,” she told AFP.
About five weeks earlier, on Oct. 3, the synagogue was vandalized and targeted with a Molotov cocktail in an antisemitic act for which ASALA — a Marxist-Leninist group designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 1989 — also claimed responsibility.
The attackers issued a statement saying, “The Jews are the enemies of the Armenian nation, complicit in Turkish crimes and the regime of [Azerbaijan President Ilhan] Aliyev. The Jewish state provides weapons to Aliyev’s criminal regime, and Jews from America and Europe actively support him. Turkey, Aliyev’s regime, and the Jews are the sworn enemies of the Armenian state and people.”
The group added: “If Jewish rabbis in the United States and Europe continue to support Aliyev’s regime, we will continue to burn their synagogues in other countries. Every rabbi will be a target for us. No Israeli Jew will feel safe in these countries.”
Armenia and Azerbaijan share a border and have a long history of conflict. Israel and Azerbaijan have engaged in close cooperation, including weapons sales, in recent years.
Armenia is home to about 500-1,000 Jews, mostly of Ashkenazi origin, localized in in the capital of Yerevan, according to World Jewish Congress estimates.
After Wednesday’s incident, ASALA reportedly threatened to continue attacks against the Jewish community outside of Armenia. Israeli media outlets reported that the group issued a statement linking the latest arson to the war in Gaza, expressing “solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements against Zionism.”
ASALA, arguably the best known of the Armenian militant groups formed during the last century, was active in the 1970s through the 1990s, but has been less visible since. The organization, which was responsible for several terrorist attacks and assassinations, was armed and trained by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). During the 1980s, ASALA terrorists trained with Palestinian factions in Lebanon, developing ties with the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group within the PLO.
This week’s targeting of an Armenian synagogue came as countries around the world, especially in the US and Europe, have experienced a historic spike in antisemitic incidents following Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.
“Armenia’s only synagogue last night was burned down in an antisemitic attack,” tweeted the National Jewish Assembly in the UK. “Jews around the world are feeling less and less safe every day because of actions like this. We are seeing people be bystanders to antisemitic attacks.”
Wednesday night’s arson attack was reminiscent of a similar incident in Tunisia last month, when hundreds of Tunisians reportedly burnt the el-Hamma Synagogue in the Gabès Governorate.