SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Investigators believe a San Francisco church may have been intentionally set on fire early Thursday morning.
Firefighters responded to St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church in the city’s Laurel Heights neighborhood around 4 a.m.
Video shows what is left of the church’s community center. You can see the windows have since been boarded up.
Neighbors said they heard the sound of glass shattering — and soon after the building caught fire.
Church leaders believe this is a hate crime that is politically motivated.
“The first floor and the second floor are completely burned out. As you can see the debris outside here, but the third and the fourth floor are mostly smoke,” Rostom Aintablian said.
San Francisco’s Armenian community woke up to a suspected arson at a sacred space early Thursday morning.
Members of St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church are now combing through debris, trying to save whatever may have survived the fire.
Rostom Aintablian – chairman of the church’s board of trustees – believes they were targeted.
“It has to be some kind of hate crime involved here. We had a similar situation at our KZV school and we think this is somehow the continuation,” Aintablian said. “The writing, the vandalism was telling us exactly who they are.”
Aintablian is referring to an incident in late July, where suspects vandalized an Armenian school nearby with graffiti, conveying anti-Armenian messages.
“We have no doubt in our minds that this is the continuation of that act, even though there’s nothing outwardly pointing at that,” Aintablian said. “The timing of it being right at the rapid succession leads us to believe this is related to that.”
Khatchig Tazian says these attacks against their community aren’t isolated to San Francisco.
“This seems to be a worldwide organized effort to intimidate us,” Tazian said. “A, because of the Armenian genocide which happened 100 years ago and Turkey, the government still denies, and B, because it borders that exists between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the simmering so called frozen conflict which is not so frozen anymore.”
Tazian is with the Armenian Cultural Foundation, his office was inside the community center next to the church that was on fire.
He says the building also houses the church’s office, youth, political, and cultural organizations — in addition to a Sunday school.
Thankfully no one was hurt in this fire. Church leaders are now looking for answers and offering a $25,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest of those responsible.