The Daily Star Of Lebanon: Armenian Christians Torn In Syria’s Civil


Society | 04.10.12 | 13:49

Christians in Aleppo are being dragged in to the increasingly
sectarian civil war in the country, straining the leadership’s policy
of neutrality, writes The Daily Star of Lebanon.

Persistent reports from Armenian Christian residents and media
activists in Aleppo say some Christian groups are arming in the city.

Several sources told The Daily Star the Armenian leadership turned
down a government offer to arm the Armenian Christian community,
but say some Armenians are accepting weapons from the regime to join
pro-government militia groups known as the “popular committees.”

“They paid around 15,000 Syrian Pounds ($22) to every guy who wanted
to join the popular committees,” explained activist George, who asked
that his surname not be used, adding that around 400 men had taken
up the offer.

“The regime tells them: These terrorists are backed by Turkey and
this is your chance for revenge on Turkey.

“In this way they exploit the Christians’ loyalty, but I think it’s

The Armenian community in Aleppo, numbering some 80,000 and whose
roots extend as far back as the first century B.C., has enjoyed broad
cultural autonomy and benevolent ties with the Alawite regime – a
relationship often cited as part of the government’s policy of courting
the country’s ethnic and religious minorities to counter-balance the
Sunni majority.

As they moved into central Aleppo, the majority Sunni Free Syrian
Army issued repeated assurances that minorities will not be harmed and
has called on Christians to join their fight against the government.

However, recent accounts from residents in the city say Islamist
fighters are increasingly targeting Christians for their perceived
support of the regime.

“They demanded the Armenian community give up those who were joining
the shabbiha,” said one man, using a pseudonym of Firas.

On September 14, the leaders of the three Armenian churches in Aleppo –
Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Armenian Evangelical – issued
a joint statement aimed at clarifying the position of the community:

“As the bloodshed continues unabated in our dear country … what
adds to our anguish are the unsuccessful attempts of presenting the
Syrian Armenians as taking part in the armed battles of the current
Syrian crisis or trying to actually drag them into such a conflict,”
the statement said.

“We reiterate today, that the peaceful co-existence that the Syrian
Armenians have cultivated throughout the decades continues … and
it will definitely stay against all kinds of violence and armed

Speaking via telephone from Aleppo, spokesman for the Armenian
Prelacy of Aleppo Jirayr Reyisian told The Daily Star churches as
well as mosques, schools and residential buildings had been damaged
by government shelling and in clashes between groups, insisting he
did not believe Christians were being targeted.

He outlined the prelacy’s work in providing humanitarian aid and
shelter to all victims of the fighting.

“Bombs don’t differentiate between sects,” he said.

On the question of arms in the community, he said “some armed groups
are supporting the army and there are some Armenians among them. We
have nothing to do with that.”

“We are not worried. We fear the situation for the whole country, for
all the people in Syria. But we are not taking sides in this crisis.”

That sentiment was echoed by members of the Lebanese Armenian
community, who adopted a policy of neutrality during the Lebanese
Civil War.

Hagop Pakradounian, Tashnag party MP for the Metn, notes that as the
conflict in Syria has escalated traditional positions of loyalty toward
the Syrian state among the Armenian community have been compromised.

“Wherever Armenians have been they have supported the country,
the state, but with the mutual killing in Syria now we have seen the
abolition of the concept of the Syrian nation as it has descended into
civil war,” says Pakradounian. “The idea of Syria has disappeared …

If someone attacks their [an Armenian] family, home or business then
they are obliged to defend themselves, not for the government nor
the opposition.”

At the social club of the Armenian Tashnag party in Bourj Hammoud,
Ogsen, 56, [an alias] struggled to contain his emotions. He fled
to Beirut from Al-Midan just over a week ago, along with his mother
and nephew. His brother, paralyzed from the waist down, remains in
Syria’s second city.

“We couldn’t take him,” Ogsen says with a shake of his head, recalling
his 14-hour journey to Beirut and his fear approaching checkpoints,
unsure whether they were controlled by Assad forces or the opposition.

“When a checkpoint was controlled by the army, then I felt relaxed,”
says Ogsen, “but if it was an opposition checkpoint I was terrified.”

“I love my country, I love my president but I had to leave,” Ogsen
says almost apologetically. “Everyone was leaving. I saw a young
girl die in front of my house, a soldier shot her through the head
by a sniper. So many people …,” he tails off, his dark curly hair
drooping over his brow as he bows his head toward the floor.

Amin, 26, from the Suleimaniyah district of Aleppo similarly uses
the word “terrorist” when referring to the Syrian opposition.

Amin arrived in Beirut two months ago after the car factory in which
he worked shut down and he was unable to find work.

“I left [Aleppo] because I wasn’t going to wait and die but now I am
running out of money. I don’t know if I can stay but I don’t want to
go back.”

“Maybe I would return to sell my house but then I would leave. I
wouldn’t live there.”

From: A. Papazian

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