Armenian community in Syria lives in fear

Armenian community in Syria lives in fear

PanARMENIAN.Net - Two suicide car bombs targeting Syrian regional military and security headquarters shook Aleppo on Feb. 10, claiming 28 victims, among them army conscript, Armenian-born Viken Hairabedian.

The explosion was one of the worst instances of violence to hit the country since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad began in March 2011.

Hairabedian’s death shocked the Syrian-Armenian community, which has thus far maintained an official line of neutrality, although unofficially many support the Assad government. As the most recent attack demonstrated, violence is moving closer to major cities like Aleppo and Damascus where thousands of Armenians call home.

The Armenian Weekly reached out to Syrian-Armenians to shed light on the challenges facing Syrian Christians, in general, and Armenians, specifically.

Syrian-Armenians want to be optimistic about the community’s future. “We always hear the sound of explosions and tank shells, but we are safe - at least for now,” said one activist, who spoke with the Weekly on condition of anonymity.

The Armenian community - and, in general, the Syrian Christian community that makes up roughly 8-10 percent of the population - is weary of the uncertain future. “They are facing a new phase. Armenians, like all minorities in the country, are vulnerable and fear a collapse of the security structures in Syria,” Nora Arissian, a historian and lecturer at Damascus University, told the Weekly.

Fr. Karekin Bedourian, who traveled to Syria in November 2011, observed how lives had been put on hold and a general atmosphere of fear dominated every activity. “We could not travel from city to city without concern for our safety. The rebels were everywhere. They were even persecuting those who were not joining them and participating in the protests,” he said.

“In the past, we used to travel at night throughout the country without any fear, even in cities considered fanatically Islamic. Now, people are afraid to come out in their own cities,” he added.

Historian Ara Sanjian believes there is nothing the Syrian Armenians can do in this internal conflict. “They only need to save their heads, and hope that the lightning won’t strike them too hard,” he told the Weekly.

“The community does not have faith in the alternative, and thus it is attached to this regime-especially because they have the example of Iraq right in front of their eyes. Saddam was a ruthless dictator, but he kept certain elements - especially religious extremist - in his country in check. Now, they’ve been let loose, and the violence is widespread,” said Sanjian, adding that as a result, half of Iraq’s Christian population has fled and will most likely never return.

The Americans did not anticipate some of the consequences when they decided to invade the country in 2003, he said. “Now there is an attempt to establish some sort of American-style freedom… but in the process a centuries-old Christian culture in the country is being erased.”

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