Syria War: Civil strife takes toll on Mideast country’s Armenian community

The four-year-long civil war in Syria has also left a mark on the 50,000-strong Armenian community of Aleppo, as a result of which nearly half of the Armenians have left the city and the country, others are concentrated in the north of the country and Damascus.

Syrian-Armenian historian Gevorg Yazchyan says that 15,000-17,000 Syrian Armenians came to Armenia, about the same number of them went to Beirut, Lebanon, while others have moved to the north-east of the country, the Kurdish-populated regions. According to the historian, a significant part of those who left the country do not plan to return to their birthplace at all, because they have lost everything they had in Syria. However, there are also Syrian Armenians who are waiting for visas to emigrate from Armenia and to settle down in other countries.

Referring to Armenians from Syria’s Kessab, which became a target of Islamist militants’ attack last year, Yazchyan says that 40 percent (about 1,000 people) of the Armenian population has returned to the city, among whom, however, there are few young people because many of them now serve in the Syrian army.

On March 21, 2014, terrorist groups crossed the Turkish border and invaded Kessab and surrounding 12 villages, making the region one of the hotspots of the Syrian war then. Only 87 days later, the Syrian National Army managed to regain control of the area that has been home to a large number of Armenians.

“The population in Kessab and Latakia has increased due to Armenians from Aleppo, because today the condition in Kessab is comparatively stable, although sounds of cannon fire can still be heard from the surrounding hills. I also want to speak on the villages of Yakub and Knie which are near Kessab, and there is little information about them. These villages are also occupied and there are also people who left those places and settled in Kessab,” says the historian. “There are Armenians in the regions of Kamishli and Al-Hasakeh where Kurdish defense forces act. They have quite positive attitude towards Armenians,” he adds.

Yazchyan makes an interesting observation about Armenian craftsmen. Most of them, crossing the border between the governmental forces and rebel groups, pay a tax, and go to repair militants’ equipment and machinery.

“Sometimes warring parties have secret agreements. They say they are well paid as there is a need for craftsmen there, and many Armenians in Aleppo have no jobs, there are no basic products. The most serious problem is water shortages. They have started to reuse old wells, or the state army brings water to people,” says the historian.

Up to 50 Armenian civilians have been killed in Syria, 10 soldiers of Armenian origin were killed in action and another 50 Armenians got wounded.

Referring to the actions of the Russian Air Force he says that the positive effect is large enough. They use the right equipment, while the Syrian army’s ground operations’ efficiency is quite low, because there is a lot of desertion. Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamist militant group, helps them in ground operations.

“The Russian air forces and the Syrian army can get a lot of success, but for the end of the war those masses should be offered a new ideology that will fit their world outlook and religious ideas. Western democracies will not work there. A pan-Arabian idea will not convince people either. One needs new ideologies to eliminate those groups,” says Yazchyan.