Syrian parliament

Syrian Parliament Recognizes Armenian Genocide

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Damascus (AFP) – Syria’s parliament on Thursday recognized the 1915-1917 killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, as tensions run high with Turkey after deadly clashes in northwest Syria.

“The parliament… condemns and recognizes the genocide committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman state at the start of the twentieth century,” the legislature said in a statement.

The Armenians seek international recognition that the mass killings of their people under the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917 amounted to genocide. They say 1.5 million died.

Turkey strongly refutes the accusation and says both Armenians and Turks died as a result of World War I, putting the death toll in the hundreds of thousands.

The Turkish foreign ministry slammed the Syrian parliament’s resolution as “hypocrisy” from a country it said is responsible for the “massacre” of its own people and “well known for its use of chemical weapons.”

“The groundless allegations leveled by a tyrant regime which has lost its legitimacy is a clear indicator of a distorted mindset,” the foreign ministry said.

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Thursday’s war of words comes after weeks of tensions between Ankara and Damascus over deadly clashes between their forces in northwest Syria which Ankara says has killed 14 of its soldiers.

Russia-backed Syrian government forces have since December upped their deadly bombardment of the last major bastion of opposition in northwest Syria, where Ankara supports the rebels and has deployed troops.

The offensive on the jihadist-dominated bastion of Idlib has also forced 800,000 people from their homes towards the closed Turkish border, the United Nations says.

Turkey, which already hosts more than three million refugees, fears a massive fresh influx from Syria and has kept its border closed to newly displaced people in Idlib.

It has sent reinforcements to Syria in recent weeks, a move Damascus says aims to protect rebels and halt its own advance.

“We are currently living through a Turkish aggression that relies on the same hateful Ottoman thinking” as “the crimes carried out by Erdogan’s forefathers against the Armenian people,” Parliament Speaker Hammouda Sabbagh said.

Beyond Idlib, Turkey and its proxies have conducted three operations in Syria against both the Islamic State group and Kurdish fighters it views as “terrorists.”

After the last incursion, Turkey set up a so-called “safe zone” in a 120-kilometer (70-mile) strip on Syrian territory along its southern border.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Wednesday to strike Syrian government forces “everywhere” if its soldiers are attacked again.

Damascus said he was “disconnected from reality.”

Clashes between Armenians and Turks started well before World War I, with between 100,000 and 300,000 Armenians killed between 1895 and 1896, according to Armenian sources.

That came as growing nationalist sentiments in the Balkans and elsewhere threatened Ottoman authority, particularly after Greek independence in 1830.

Turkey says the Armenians collaborated with its enemy Russia during World War I, accusing them of killing tens of thousands of Turks.

In 1915, thousands of Armenians suspected of being hostile to Ottoman rule were rounded up and a special law a month later authorized deportations “for reasons of internal security”.

Many Armenians were forced into exile in the Syrian desert and a large number were killed, either on the way to detention camps or after they arrived.

Some were burned to death, others were drowned, poisoned or died from disease, according to foreign diplomats and intelligence services at the time.

Many passed through the eastern Syrian desert region of Deir ez-Zor.

A genocide memorial there contained some of the remains of the victims and served as an Armenian pilgrimage site before it was bombed by jihadists in 2014.

In 2010, then-Armenian president Serzh Sarkisian visited the site, also a church, and said it was to Armenians what Auschwitz is to Jews.

Turkey’s defeat in the First World War led to the creation of an independent Armenian state in 1918.

Before the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests, the country counted some 350,000 Armenians including some 150,000 in second city Aleppo alone, according to Syria specialist Fabrice Balanche.

But when the government recaptured Aleppo from rebels in late 2016, just 10,000 were left there. Thousands had fled to Armenia, neighboring Lebanon or to the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Parliaments in nearly 30 countries have passed laws, resolutions or motions recognizing the Armenian genocide.

The US congress in December recognized the mass killings as genocide, angering Turkey. President Donald Trump’s administration opposed the move.