Syria: The Armenian Dilemma

A few months ago, a resolution was proposed by the United Nations calling for the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, to stand down from office; this was vetoed by Russia and China and caused furious reaction from the rest of the UN Security Council.  At the time I was surprised by the conduct of these two countries. Were they voting against it purely to snub the “Western” nations? I then read the response from a Syrian Armenian contact living in Aleppo who praised this controversial action. Why would he be supportive of something which, it would appear, was the necessary action to end the conflict and killing?

I was in a demonstration last month in London which marked the first anniversary of the uprising in Syria,  and I followed the anti-Assad march through the streets. The anger, and protest was well understood and complied with the media presentation of the situation. Waiting for them at the Syrian Embassy in Belgrave Square in London was the  pro-Assad group; there was an expectation of some trouble. In discussion with the pro-Assad group, it exposed a subtlety of the politics which had never been fully aired, and which is very pertinent. It was probably fair to say that they were more pro-Syria, as a secular, multi-faith, multi-ethnic country, rather than in favour of one individual. The view was that Assad was most likely to allow this to continue rather than to pass power to a Sunni Islamic / Kurdish collective which had no common purpose and which potentially would lead to different types of conflict – resulting in civil war, a divided state, and more strict Islamic rule.

Turkey, in its role as an ambivalent neighbour, and opportunist, is endeavouring to curry favour with the Western nations. It has declared its clear opposition to the Assad regime, and is actively giving refuge to people fleeing Syria, and hosting the most recent Friends of Syria meeting. There has been talk of Turkey setting up a “buffer” / “security” zone inside Syria which seems to have only one outcome and that is to propagate the level of confusion and make resolution a more distant proposition. By supporting the Opposition forces, which have a significant Kurdish contingent,  and at the same time fighting the Kurdish nationalist movement within its own borders, it shows that Turkey’s political strategy lacks clarity and cohesion. A dormant and point of further conflict between the two countries is the Republic of Hatay; this was originally part of the French mandate of Syria ( and part of the state of Aleppo) which it subsequently decided would define itself constitutionally as being annexed to Turkey. This has never been fully accepted by Syria.

The conventional wisdom of the “Western” world is that the leader of the prevailing secularist state is “evil” and should change. The recent history of what happens to countries where UN/NATO have interfered and caused regime change is not good, and particularly where that happens in Arabic / Middle Eastern countries. Imposing a single political philosophy on all peoples, in all countries, and in all situations is fundamentally flawed; but we continue to believe, somewhat arrogantly, that “we know best” and have the monopoly on political and cultural wisdom.

Trapped in this maelstrom is the Syrian Armenian community of approximately 80,000 people located, predominantly in Aleppo and Damascus. Whilst Armenians have lived in Syria for centuries, the main influx has been since the Genocide, and so represents a relatively young community. It is a testament to the Syrian secularist society that they have been allowed to integrate and grow, albeit with conditions, as part of a country that is 90% Muslim. Since the independence of Syria successive governments have been somewhere between militaristic and authoritarian, and this has perhaps, clumsily, maintained a fraught status quo, similar to that of Tito in Yugoslavia. The Armenians have suffered at the hands of Muslim states, and the prospect of those in Syria being wedged between a more fundamentalist government in their own country and an antagonistic one in Turkey, is daunting. This would suggest that “supporting” the existing regime was the best option, but this is against the might of the international community who will not rest until there is regime change. “Supporting” the Opposition forces which will introduce a Sunni Muslim regime will leave the Armenians in a very politically sensitive and delicate situation. This dilemma is largely ignored in the discussions around what is happening in Syria, and most views seem to be polarised into which side is “good” and which is “bad”. Their current neutral stance is, undoubtedly, the most sensible approach, however as everyday unfolds and there is more discussion of funding the Opposition, and providing them with more material resources, this will only serve to proliferate the killing and misery, and further endanger the lives of the Armenians battling with the Syrian dilemma.

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Categories: Being Armenian

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1 reply

  1. a really good article well written explaining the depths of the problem and well analysed.

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