Armenians Trapped in the Syrian War


Edmond Azadian

Edmond Azadian

By Edmond Y. Azadian

 

The war in Syria is escalating rapidly because of Turkey’s miscalculation as well as cunning.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was cornered because of his domestic policies and because of his plans to solve the Kurdish problem through “democratic means.” To achieve that goal, he engaged in negotiations with the leadership of the militant wing of Kurdish opposition, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and personally with the jailed leader of that organization, Abdullah Ocalan. Not only were restrictions on the Kurdish minority relaxed, but the Kurds were allowed to openly participate in the parliamentary elections and as a result won 13 percent of the votes, to send 80 members to the parliament.

Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the left-leaning Kurdish party, People Democratic Party (HDP), played a constructive role in the peace negotiations, which helped his personal popularity soar in Turkey.

When Ocalan ordered PKK militants to lay down their arms, many among the Kurds and outside observers were skeptical about the real intentions of the Erdogan government. Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic, the country has experienced several periods of freedom and relaxation of repression, only to be followed by military takeovers or bloody persecutions.

The worst fears of those skeptics were realized when Erdogan panicked and reversed his policy against the Kurds. He began a war against the PKK militants in Iraq and in Turkey. The assertive rise of the Kurds in Turkey was compounded by the creation of a Kurdish canton in Kobani, Syria, with the help of the US and coalition forces.

The Kurds in Syria and Iraq proved to be the most effective forces against the Islamic State (IS), winning the confidence of the alliance against that group. These developments brought the prospect of an autonomous Kurdish region on Turkey’s border, infuriating Mr. Erdogan.

“Under no circumstances will we permit the establishment of a new state in Syria,” announced the Turkish president, referring to the incipient Kurdish entity.

Because of Erdogan’s intransigence, US policy in Syria was stymied. Turkey had banned the US and allied forces from using the Incirlik air base to bomb IS targets in Iraq and Syria. President Obama was desperately seeking a fig leaf to salvage the US policy in Syria. He found it in a lie provided by Erdogan: the US would be permitted to use Incirlik and Turkey would join the campaign against IS, if Ankara was allowed to implement the long-held plan of establishing a security zone in Syria. Mr. Obama blinked and all NATO allies peevishly voted to support Turkey in its double-pronged plan. Turkey began its bombing raids in Syria and Iraq but the main targets were the Kurds and PKK militants, the very forces who had stopped IS’s advances in Iraq and Syria. Turkey, to this day, does not allow US and coalition planes from using Incirlik against IS forces, while offering lip service to the campaign. Its goal in creating a “security zone” is nothing short of clearing Kurdish towns on its borders.

Patrick Cockburn, writing in the Independent newspaper in a blog, said, “Ankara’s objective is precisely the opposite of Washington’s and little different from that of ISIS, which has been battling to hold back PYD/YPD [Kurds].”

Turkey has launched a war within a war. A war of its own against the Kurds in Turkey and in the neighboring countries. The Kurdish leader Demirtas, in an interview given to the German media, Spiegel online, stated: “Erdogan is capable of setting the country on fire.”

Erdogan has taken a big gamble; by launching a war against the Kurds and provoking a potential retaliation, he believes that he can come out as the savior of the unity of his country and win a majority vote in the November elections. But once the genie is out of the bottle, even Erdogan’s deft juggling will not be enough to put it back in the bottle. The war may extend way beyond the elections and his calculations may prove faulty, indeed bringing destruction to the country.

With the US policy thus paralyzed, IS forces will remain intact in Syria and Iraq and continue beheadings and atrocities, especially against the Yezidis in Iraq and the Armenians in Syria.

Turkey has used IS forces in the immediate past to destroy the Der Zor monument and church across the border and kill or deport Armenians from Kessab and towns in northern Syria, in a sickening echo of one hundred years ago.

It is estimated that 220,000 civilians have been killed in Syria, among them 100 Armenians.

The forces of the Syrian government and a variety of other mercenaries fighting each other and the government are at a stalemate, creating a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions for the innocent Syrians.

There are perhaps 25,000 Armenians trapped in Aleppo now, living under the protection of the Syrian army. The news media seldom refers to the plight of those Armenians. Yet, the Turks have calculated cold-bloodedly to massacre them through the IS forces because the Armenians in Syria have always been considered a thorn in the side of the Turkish government. No one should be fooled that the Turks will hesitate even for one moment to exterminate the remnants of the Armenian community once the Syrian government forces are overrun.

Like many Syrian citizens, Armenians have become refugees in neighboring countries and even in their ancestral homeland, Armenia.

Aleppo Armenians, the descendants of Genocide survivors, constituted the last bastion of Armenian presence in the Arab world, with their traditions intact and their institutions active.

Armenians in Syria enjoyed government protection, yet they did not participate in the conflict. Last year, President Serge Sargisian announced that Armenians in Syria have to observe neutrality. The announcement sounded absurd, given the fact that Armenians have always been the beneficiaries of the Syrian government and now in the conflict they must express their gratitude.

Some research revealed that the announcement was indeed very significant; as long as Armenians did not participate in the conflict, they were not on the radar of Is or rebel forces, but once the government encouraged and armed self-defense militias, the Armenian institutions became fair game for the rebel forces. Therefore, a dilemma arises for the Armenian community leaders there.

Fifteen thousand Armenians from Syria have taken refuge in Armenia. The government and people there were not prepared to receive an influx of refugees and thus far, they have mishandled the resettlement of those refugees, especially in the current economic situation. The most that the government has offered to their displaced compatriots has been lip service. Even the enterprising elements among the refugees have faced red tape and ruthless treatment from the tax authorities. Many are dreaming of returning to Syria if and when peace is restored. The Syrian passport is not welcome in many countries, therefore some of them are applying for Armenian passports to be able to leave Armenia. Perhaps Diaspora Armenians have demonstrated more empathy and material support to the refugees.

One hundred years after the Genocide, Turkish threat of exterminating Armenian population from the region still hangs over Armenians trapped in Aleppo. That threat has also dispersed Armenians to their ancestral homeland and beyond. This means that the survival of the survivors is in question.

Does anyone care about the Armenians in the bloodbath of the Syrian war?