|The scene in Aleppo as reported by The Armenian Weekly
I’m an average American in my knowledge of the political, social and economic forces animating the current turmoil in Syria.
In other words, I know very little.
I’m more interested than most, however, in part because so many Armenians are in the line of fire.
Armenians have a long history in Syria, particularly in the north.
During the Genocide of 1915, vast numbers of Armenians were driven into the Syrian desert to die. But with the end of Ottoman rule after the First World War, Syria became a haven for thousands of Armenian refugees.
Like most predominantly Arab countries, Syria has a Muslim majority but it also has a significant Christian population and a historic practice of tolerance. Feeling both thankful and secure, Armenians turned their temporary settlements into permanent homes by building villages and churches in their own traditions.
At the population’s peak, there were was many as 150,000 Syrians of Armenian descent. That number has probably been reduced by a third in recent years for all the expected reasons, including the region’s conflicts.
Now the Armenians who remain are caught in the back-and-forth between government forces of President Bashar-al-Assad and anti-government rebels. Among the hardest hit are the Armenians of Aleppo, where many of my father’s relatives settled after being displaced from Turkey in 1922.
Some Armenian villages have come under direct attack. The long-standing Armenian community of Kessab was left deserted after assaults by fighters who crossed the border from Turkey. Government forces have since retaken the town.
The death toll in Kessab remains unclear, as does the extent of Turkey’s involvement in the broader Syrian conflict—but the parallel to 1915 is eerie and infuriating to Armenians everywhere.
Armenians throughout the world are responding to urgent calls for donations while also pressing for international intervention.
Whether the United States or any other outside power will do much to help is beyond me. But here’s what I do know: Much of what we’ve read and heard about the Syrian conflict is wrong.
It was initially portrayed as the latest iteration of the Arab Spring, a phrase that assaults both language and logic. This is not a simple good guy/bad guy battle between a despotic regime and idealistic democrats.
As in all the Middle East, there are more than two sides vying for domination and it’s hard to tell whether there’s much good in any of them.
What is clear is that Armenians are suffering once again for the very reason that has threatened our existence so many times: We are simply in the way.