Hate graffiti reported at Armenian church in Watertown

Hateful graffiti was discovered Monday on a bulletin board outside Saint Stephens Armenian Apostolic Church, and authorities are treating the matter as a hate crime, church officials said via Facebook.

Saint Stephens posted a photo of the message, which said “ARTSAKH IS DEAD” in block capital letters and was taped to the church’s bulletin board out front. A second photo showed a Watertown police officer putting on latex gloves as he investigated the graffiti.

“Hate knows no boundaries – and today it found its way into our community,” the church said. “The Watertown Police Department is treating this as a hate crime. They have taken the sign to process for evidence and will view footage from the church’s security cameras. The police will also increase their presence in the area of the church and the school, especially during school hours. There will also be a cadre of volunteers surrounding the school during drop off and pick up.”

Watertown police Chief Thomas Rocca confirmed via email that police are investigating.

“There was a paper sign taped to the church’s exterior bulletin board,” Rocca wrote. “The sign said ‘Artsakh is dead.’ The meaning is unclear and we are looking into it.”

Artsakh is the Armenian name for disputed territory in the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the South Caucasus.

Badly needed humanitarian aid was headed to the separatist region from both Azerbaijan and Armenia on Saturday. The development came days after Azerbaijan reclaimed control of the province and began talks with representatives of its ethnic Armenian population on reintegrating the area, prompting some residents to flee their homes for fear of reprisals.

Nagorno-Karabakh came under the control of ethnic Armenian forces, backed by the Armenian military, in separatist fighting that ended in 1994. Armenian forces also took control of substantial territory around the Azerbaijani region.

Azerbaijan regained control of the surrounding territory in a six-week war with Armenia in 2020. A Russia-brokered armistice ended the war, and a contingent of 2,000 Russian peacekeepers was sent to the region to monitor it.

On Sept. 19, Azerbaijan launched heavy artillery fire against ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. A cease-fire was announced a day later, toning down fears of a third full-scale war over the region.

“Hate towards Armenians is everywhere,” the Watertown church said Monday. “Stay vigilant. We cannot let this deter our fight for survival and justice. As Der Hayr said in his sermon, our greatest weapon is prayer. We pray for our displaced sisters and brothers of Artsakh. We pray for the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh, and we pray for all Armenians around the world.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.

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