For news consumers who are closely following events on the ground in Syria, especially those of us who are worried about the protection of religious minorities there, it will come as little surprise to learn that ethnic Armenians are fleeing the dangerous cities and towns of Syria.
Logically enough, The New York Times reports that many of these refugees are fleeing back into Armenia, to a “motherland most barely know.”
And what is this flight all about, according to the Times team? Might this have something to do with religion and centuries of persecution?
The following passage is long, but GetReligion readers need to see the logic of this piece. I will interject the occasional question of my own.
Their ancestors fled the Ottoman genocide in what is now Turkey nearly a century ago and flourished in Syria, reviving one of the many minority groups that have long coexisted there.
Nope, no signs of religious strife there.
Now, the flight of Syrian Armenians — one of many lesser-noticed ripple effects that could reshape countries well beyond Syria’s neighbors — is raising questions about the future of Syria’s diversity. And it is forcing Armenia, which depends on its strong diaspora communities to augment its otherwise scant geopolitical heft, to make delicate calculations about whether to encourage their exodus or slow it.
The future of Syria’s diversity? Nope. No signs of religious ghosts there, so let’s jump down a bit.
Ethnic Armenians are a fraction of an accelerating flood of fleeing Syrians expected to reach 700,000 by year’s end, mainly in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. But since the Armenians, unlike other Syrians, can easily acquire an alternative nationality, Syria could see one of its vibrant communities permanently diminished.
One might even ask: Are many of those who are desperately fleeing Syria part of threatened religious minorities?
Syrian Armenians are known for their gold and silver craftsmanship and exquisite cuisine. They are also a critical component of Syria’s connection to Russia and the West, serving an intermediary role through their relations with the global Armenian diaspora.
Food is important. However, might Armenians also be known, in Syria, for their religious beliefs and traditions? Might that have something to do with those lingering ties to Russia, in particular, in addition to the Soviet Union history?
Then, a few lines later, but well into this report, Times readers learn:
While Syrian Armenians have remained officially neutral in Syria’s civil war, as Christians many are wary of the rebels’ Islamist strains, and as Armenians suspicious of the rebels’ Turkish support.
But, alas, that’s just about all that one learns on the religion questions looming in the background. You know those Armenians, this is really all about ethnic identity, politics, power and money. You see, in Armenia:
A vociferous minority has seized on fears of violence in Syria — and memories of the Ottoman genocide — to push for a larger nationalist goal, the return of all Armenians to the country.
“This is our land — not L.A., not New York, not Syria,” said Vartan Marashlyan, Armenia’s former deputy diaspora minister and the executive director of Repat Armenia, an organization founded in August to “actively champion” what it calls the “repatriation” of Armenians from around the world.
Syrian Armenians who yearn for Syria “want to be in the Aleppo of one year ago,” a setting whose peaceful coexistence may not return, he said. Referring to estimates of genocide deaths, he added, “We lost 1.5 million people to this mentality that it will all work out.”
You see, religion really isn’t that big a part of the emerging picture in Syria or, well, Egypt or Libya. Did religion have anything to do with that whole genocide business?
Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind. These ethnic groups and distressed minorities. Why can’t they just GET ALONG?
IMAGE: By Laura. An Armenian Orthodox church in Damascus.