One hundred years ago the European world was on the brink of war. The many alliances and conflicts were readying themselves to be executed. The continent had existed too long with many unresolved issues, and only a small incident was required to ignite the hailstorm. The war that was due to be over by Christmas of that year, lasted for four years, resulted in a terrible loss of life, and created geo-political changes which we are still living with today.
The Arab Spring seemed to create a different type of chaos, and the future is unclear as to where peace will come from. This ”revolution” did not deliver the wishes of the people in the way that the “fall of the Berlin Wall” did for many in Eastern Europe/Soviet bloc cuntries. The main exception is for the Armenians in the Republic, as well as Artsakh. The legacies of the post-First World War mayhem still haunt this region.
One hundred years ago many Armenians fled the Genocide perpetrated by the Young Turks of the failing Ottoman Empire; many fled to Syria as a safe haven. For most of the last 50 years Syria has been considered by the West as a rogue-state, one that harboured and sponsored terrorism and so in our psyche we see Syria as something of a pariah. So when the rebellion started during the Arab Spring the media presentation of this situation was that the “rebels” were representing the “voice of the people”, and the Assad regime deserved to be ousted. That would satisfy our simplistic understanding of the situation in Syria.
I have spoken to a number of people, in London, and in Armenia who have given me a completely different perspective and one which breaks the rules of normal conflicts. Most conflicts usually have a simple binary status – good vs bad ; us vs them. This is not the case in Syria. A natural inclination to support the “rebels” has mutated, into a nightmare alternative where the “rebels” in Syria, are also considered “terrorists” by the West. Also countries which are not natural allies find themselves, notionally, on the “same side”. Now that the rhetoric has been overtaken by action, the reality of this situation is stark for many people.
Clarity and facts are in short-supply during a war, and anyone declaring that they know the total situation is undoubtedly being disingenuous. However we do know that Assad, and his father before him, presided over an ethnically diverse country which, whilst predominantly Muslim ( Shia/Alawite, and Sunni) also had a significant population (~10%) of Christians ( many denominations including Armenian – The population of Armenians in Syria is greater than that in Artsakh). We also know that the aim of the “rebels/terrorists” is to create an Islamic state which would make life very difficult for the indigenous Christian population. Whilst Armenians already live in an Iranian Islamic state, the relationship between the 2 peoples is much more historical, and they share similar ethnicity. The expectation would be that if Assad falls then the Government will be headed by a group implementing more orthodox Muslim principles, and that will mean there will be no place for Christian worship, and therefore Christians, in Syria.
Currently Assad has few friends, however those that he does have are influential, and key players, namely Russia, China and Iran, as well as Hizbullah in Lebanon. However the opposition which consists of the US/UK/Europe/Israel/Arab states as well as the “rebel/terrorists” including Al-Qaeda are an “un-holy alliance” of allies and enemies. Whether Assad used chemical weapons or not is difficult to tell for all parties, and Russia is not convinced. Assad is vehement that he was not responsible, and no evidence has been made public to prove it. To launch a military attack as a punitive measure is a curious form of mature foreign policy, and it will inflame the conflict and not help to resolve it.
The opportunity exists for John Kerry (Secretary of State – US) and Sergei Lavrov (Foreign Minister – Russia) to be statesmanlike, leaders, and peacemongers and to work in the interests of all of the people of the region, and not for the few people in power, or those aspiring to be in power. The coming days and weeks will be critical for many in the region but especially for the Christians and Armenians in Syria – they have to hope that the political tide will turn to a pro-Assad-like future.
Despite his surname, Lavrov is born of an Armenian father, and a Georgian mother. If he is a true Armenian he will be very aware of the situation facing his compatriots in Syria, can the same be said of Kerry?