Syria: Disintegration of a Community


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Any crisis in an Armenian community is a crisis for the entire Armenian nation, wherever they may be living.

Those people who fail to see that perspective may have lost their compass regarding their sense of ethnic identity. With the Genocide, the Turks not only snuffed the lives of the martyrs, they also triggered a process of alienation among the living. Thus any assimilated Armenian adds to the number of the martyrs, because their psyches as well as flesh and blood react differently to any tragedy afflicting the Armenians.

Thus, after the Genocide, a wave of exiled Armenians leaving their ancestral homeland crashed on the shores of the countries of the Middle East — Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iran, etc. — as well as further afield. Armenians have historically demonstrated that they blossom and thrive faster in foreign lands than on their own.

The settlement in mostly-Muslim countries proved one essential point: that Islam was not the driving factor behind the Genocide, as Muslim brethren of the Turks were offering succor to Armenians in their most bleak time of need. Armenians — who were received with open arms in Middle Eastern countries — experienced a lesser degree of discrimination than those who had settled in Europe and the US. Therefore, they integrated in their host societies but did not assimilate, perhaps as a result of the inherent taboo in both cultures of converting from either religion to the other. There they established their churches, schools and publications and organized their communities in a brief period of time.

Then, starting about four decades back, a second wave of Armenian emigration from Middle Eastern countries to Europe, Australia and the United States began, this time around with a high rate of attrition. The revolutions, turmoil and civil strife that gripped many of these countries in the Middle East once again forced Armenians to seek safer havens. The revolution in Iran was a devastating blow to the well-established community there. The Nasserite revolution in Egypt expropriated the wealth of individual Armenians and their institutions, driving the families out of the country. The Lebanese civil war, which lasted 16 years, deci- mated that flourishing community. After Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, the 25,000-strong Armenian community was reduced to 1,000.

Armenians experienced prosperity even in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq but the subsequent dethroning of the admittedly tyrannical leader decimated the country’s population, including the Armenians, drowning that community in blood.

Syria was the last bastion of Armenian power in the Middle East, much to the envy of the Turks. While Armenian language and literature was regressing in other communities, the Syrian- Armenian community reared a new generation of Armenian writ- ers, thanks to a network of schools and social and cultural orga- nizations.

Today that prosperous community is facing disintegration, as the country is caught in an imported civil war.

Turkey is at the forefront of the aggression against Syria, because it has everything to gain and nothing to lose by a regime change there. By arming and sending mercenaries across the bor- der into Syria, Turkey has three distinct objectives: a) serving as a surrogate to the West and rendering much-needed services to the US, Europe and Israel, while maintaining its economic and political dominance in the region; b) Syria has never resigned to the fact that one of its provinces (Sanjak of Alexandretta or Hatay) was taken over by France and ceded to Turkey. Therefore, by Syria’s defeat at the hand of Turkey, Ankara once and for all resolves that issue; c) the thriving Armenian community has always been a thorn in the side of Turkey, especially a communi- ty that builds monuments dedicated to the unspeakable cruelty of the Ottoman leaders on the sands of Deir Zor, now part of Syria proper, across the Turkish border to remind the world of the Armenian Genocide.

Our biased news media purports to bring a messianic message to the Syrian people, that with Bashar al Assad’s downfall, democracy will be around the corner. But the most simple-minded person, looking at the continuing bloodbaths in Iraq and Libya, can see what kind of “democracy” is in store for Syria.

Syrian Armenians caught in the crossfire have been looking for refuge in neighboring countries. Many have already fled to Lebanon, while others have found temporary relief in Armenia and are waiting for some sort of conclusion there.

There are some critical voices in Armenia saying that the government is not doing enough for the Syrian-Armenian communi- ty. Actually, Armenia, this time around is more prepared to help the Syrian Armenians, should an overflow of refugees leave Syria, especially Aleppo, where the majority of the Armenians live. But Yerevan has to coordinate its policy with Russia, which has been opposing the violent overthrow of the Syrian regime in the United Nations.

His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia has been playing a positive role, first by giving courage to the people through politically correct messages and second, by materially helping the stricken community.

It is not surprising that all Christian communities — and espe- cially the Armenians — have been supportive of the Assad regime, because they have enjoyed personal and community-wide pros- perity, contrary to what we see and hear in the Western media. Should the Muslim Brotherhood extend its tentacles from Cairo to Damascus, that will be the end of the Armenian community in Syria. In Iraq and Egypt, in the wake of violent uprisings and for- eign intervention, Christian churches and minority institutions were bombed or attacked by extremists; a similar prospect looms also for Syria.

But the major powers who have determined to overthrow the government in Syria have other items on their agenda — the well- being of the Armenian community is the least of their worries. It should be our concern.