Syria: minority peoples face cleansing

Syria’s minority peoples are especially targeted by the jihadist rebels—and therefore generally wary of foreign intervention against the Bashar Assad regime. The Armenians, like other Syrian Christians, face growing attacks, with the US-based Armenian Weekly July 31 reporting a wave of abductions and slayings, including of children, by unnamed rebel factions. Zarmik Poghikian of Aleppo-based Armenian journal Gandzasar told Radio Free Europe Aug. 31: “The Armenian community is neutral, but it is concerned, because this possible strike will be delivered against the whole country and everyone without exception will suffer. Leaders of the Armenian community have urged people to remain cautious during these days and refrain from attempting to leave the city, but even if someone wanted to do so there is no opportunity anymore, as all roads are closed.”

Syria’s Armenians, numbering some 100,000, are mostly in Aleppo, many descended from survivors of the forced deportations from their Caucasus homeland by the Ottoman Turks during the World War I-era genocide. International Armenian news site Asbarez on Sept. 6 ran an editorial opposing US air-strikes on Syria, calling on readers to voice their opposition.

Many of Syria’s Circassians, another predominantly Christian people, have already fled the country. Sameer Qardan, a former English professor at Damascus University who now heads the office of the International Circassian Association in Nalchik, southern Russia (Kabardino-Balkaria Republic), is petitioning Moscow to allow Syria’s 100,000 Circassians to return to their ancient Caucasus homeland. He told Irish Times Aug. 22: “Syria is being destroyed by both sides. We are not with the regime—we want reforms in a nonviolent way. But with all its faults, the dictatorship is not as bad as the Islamists. They will never recognize the rights of anyone who does not share their beliefs.”

The Circassians fled their homeland in a wave of persecution and atrocities after its conquest by Russia in the 19th century, only to find themselves persecuted in Turkish-dominated lands as well, prompting many to flee to Syria and other Arab areas of the Ottoman empire. Qardan’s family settled in the Golan Heights in 1899, and farmed there until the enclave was seized by Israel in 1967, and the family lost its land. They moved to Damascus and then to Kuwait, where they again lost their property when Iraq invaded in 1990, prompting them to return to Syria. “And now it is happening once more,” he said. 

Also now being forced to flee a Syria that once provided refuge for them are the Mandaeans—followers of the world’s last remaining indigenous Gnostic faith, nearly all 60,000 of whom have had to flee their homeland in Iraq over the past decade. While some have received asylum in Canada, Australia and elsewhere, many have remained in Syria, hoping to reconstitute the community and eventually return to Iraq. Now they may have to give up that dream, Canada’s National Post reported Aug. 10. The Damascus suburb where they have settled, Jaramana, has suffered three bombings this year, leaving 10 dead and nearly 70 wounded—blamed by the government on “terrorists.” In recent weeks, it has started to come under shelling by rebel forces.  

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