Armenia’s Humanitarian Mission Receives Inhumane Rebuke


The war in Syria is in its eighth year and peace remains elusive despite the fact that ISIS forces have been all but destroyed. For the warring factions, the 500,000 dead and eight million refugees do not seem reasons enough to stop the carnage through proxy fighters while a peace settlement is being negotiated between the parties involved.

Syria is not just any country for Armenians; it is the country that a century ago took in 500,000 Armenians who had barely survived the Genocide as well as deportations from Cilicia. The shameful betrayal of the French left hundreds of thousands of Armenians who had returned to Cilicia with the promise of a home rule under a French protectorate, vulnerable and in danger of slaughter. Therefore, Syria is not a country whose plight we can face with indifference.

Armenians settled in the major cities of Aleppo and Damascus, as well as rural areas, enjoyed security and respect for their identities and their faith. They thrived in that country through their schools, churches, cultural and youth centers and the community became a net exporter of teachers, priests, intellectuals and artists to other diasporan communities.

Before the Syrian war, the Armenian community there was 110,000 strong. Today, it has been reduced to less than half that size. Many have returned to rebuild their homes, their businesses, churches and cultural centers.

Throughout the eight-year civil war, the global Armenian disapora raised funds to dispatch assistance to their brothers and sisters in that embattled country. The US Armenian community has been generous in its support for the needy Armenian families in Syria. Armenia, still a poor country, has contributed its share of relief through four plane-loads of supplies. It also has taken in 22,000 refugees from Syria, without receiving any assistance from international relief agencies to help in the resettlement. Similarly, many Syrian Armenians there have been able to attend universities for free and get help to start their own businesses in Armenia.

By contrast, Turkey was awarded billions of dollars for refugee settlement, despite the fact that it has used the refugees only as a political weapon, leaving them to live in subhuman conditions in refugee camps.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Armenians in Syria not only became collateral damage in the war, but were specifically targeted. Occupation of the historic Armenian region of Kessab was the job of Turkey’s surrogates as was the destruction of the Martyrs’ Monument in Der Zor, dedicated to the genocide that had brought so many Armenians to Syria.

The world Armenian community is duty-bound to support the resettlement and the healing of their fellow Armenians in Syria.

Armenia’s government this month deployed a humanitarian mission with 83 experts in demining and health care. The mission is not armed nor able to carry out combat. It will be working in areas where civilian life has returned to normalcy, including Aleppo, where Armenians remain concentrated.

Yet, that peaceful mission has been turned into a political football between the US and Armenia. Actually, it is between the US and Russia, with Armenia paying the price of being a minor player in a global minefield.

When the war was raging, Moscow had asked its strategic allies to contribute to combat efforts. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan refused. President Serzh Sargsyan had warned Armenians in Syria to observe strict neutrality in order not to be identified with any side and also not to become a target for ISIS terrorists. But, now that the war has subsided, the new government in Armenia has taken a political gamble, perhaps without realizing that the mission may be politicized despite its humanitarian nature.

When Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met with the White House National Security Advisor John Bolton in the fall, the mission was discussed and Armenian officials reassured the American diplomat that the mission was purely humanitarian. Therefore, it was believed that no further objections would be raised by the US.

Mr. Bolton had also asked Armenian government to shut down its border with Iran, in compliance with the US economic sanctions against that country. Mr. Bolton’s is not concerned that closing the Iranian border would be tantamount to suicide, given the fact that the only other border to the outside world is through Georgia, a neighbor that has colluded with Turkey and Azerbaijan to isolate Armenia. Mr. Bolton even did not bother to force Turkey and Azerbaijan to lift the blockade in return for Armenia’s compliance with the US policy.

After official discussions with Bolton and after confirming the peaceful nature of the mission, the terse rebuke by the State Department, released through the US Embassy in Yerevan comes as a surprise. The statement says, “We recognize the desire of other nations to respond to the humanitarian situation in Syria, and we share their concerns about protecting religious minorities in the Middle East. However, we don’t support any engagement with Syrian military forces, whether that engagement is to provide assistance to civilians or is military in nature. Nor do we support any cooperation between Armenia and Russia for this mission. Russia has partnered with the Assad regime to slaughter civilians and trigger a humanitarian catastrophe. Russia continues to protect the Assad regime and its atrocities on the global stage.”

It is not our place to defend Assad or justify Russia’s actions, whatever the pliant media has done to demonize them. It suffices to note that even right-wing commentator Glenn Beck has expressed his revulsion about the level and the nature of atrocities perpetrated by the Turkey-Saudi Arabia surrogate, ISIS. Also, the politicians’ narrative will never leave out of their arsenal the accusation of the use of poison gas by the Damascus regime, even after the revelation of BBC corresponded that the story was a hoax or false flag operation.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry has reacted mildly to the US statement.

“The Armenian humanitarian mission to Syria is purely a relief mission guided by international humanitarian laws and coordinates its work with relief agencies and international partners present on the ground,” spokesman for the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Anna Naghdalyan replied.

In his turn, Ruben Rubinyan, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Armenian Parliament has downplayed the issue stating, “Sending a team of specialists to Syria is very important for us because it is first of all aimed at ensuring the physical security of our ethnic Armenian compatriots living there and second of all, the security of the people living in Syria. So, this was not a geopolitical, political or military move. It is purely humanitarian.”

The minister of defense of Cyprus, a member of the European Union, Savvas Angelides, who happened to be in Armenia on an official visit, has strongly supported Armenia’s mission.

Also, Armenia was never praised nor thanked for its repeated participation in peacekeeping missions under NATO in Kosovo and Afghanistan as well as under the UN in South Lebanon. It suffices that Sergey Shoygu, Russia’s minister of defense, thanking Armenia for dispatching the mission to serve under Russian command has turned the issue into a controversy in the US policy of containment of Russia.

Armenia is in no position to do anything more than what it has done thus far. It is incumbent upon American Armenians to raise their voices. It is a welcome move that the Trump administration is disengaging itself form the war in Syria and withdrawing its forces from the battlefield. That is recognition enough and a concession to the remaining parties to settle the Syrian conflict, meaning Russia, Iran and Turkey. Armenia’s role remains symbolic to make a major issue for the State Department.

The humanitarian mission is part and parcel of the relief assistance undertaken by the world Armenian community to help destitute Armenians there. Armenians must be able to muster enough political courage to stand up to the State Department’s reaction, which is out of proportion to the effort.

The State Department has to understand to allow some humanity in the humanitarian mission.



Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: