Turkey’s Ottomanist Ambitions Target Armenians in Lebanon

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While the population in Armenia is experiencing a crisis within a crisis, meaning political instability during the coronavirus pandemic, Armenians in Lebanon are facing a triple crisis: an economic meltdown during the pandemic in addition to a conflict with Turkish surrogates.

On June 11, a demonstration was staged in Beirut’s Muslim quarter, with slogans directed against Armenians, accompanied by the waving of the Turkish and Lebanese flags. This was a surprise outburst against the Armenians, although it had long been anticipated within the perspective of geostrategic developments in the region.

At the turn of the previous century, Armenians were welcomed in Lebanon after the Genocide as the indigenous people of the country, both Muslim and Christian, had themselves experienced 400 years of harsh Ottoman rule.

While Armenian political and intellectual figures lost their lives on the gallows in Istanbul, the intellectual elite in Damascus and Beirut suffered the same fate. To this day, the main square in Beirut is called Martyrs Square, where the intellectuals of what was then called Greater Syria were hanged in 1915. (On a side note, the last Ottoman governor of Lebanon was an ethnic Armenian called Hovhannes Kuyumjian.)

Therefore, there was a sense of empathy between the Lebanese people and the Armenians when the latter commemorated their martyrs. The entire country even shut down in solidarity with the Armenian community during April 24 commemorations. That was until last year, when the annual commemoration was met with hostile counterdemonstrations led by Sunni extremist clerics, instigated by the Turkish embassy in Beirut.

Armenians, upon arrival, first settled in shantytowns in Lebanon, gradually to become one of the most affluent communities in the country. Armenians gave back to Lebanon as much as they had received, as they proved to be one of the most industrious communities there, through professions, art, education, entrepreneurship, etc. Thus, they occupied their rightful position in Lebanese society.

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Incidentally, Lebanese Armenians, thanks to a rigorous educational system, exported generations of educators, clergy, editors, writers and political leaders to Armenian communities around the world.

Last but not least, the Armenians were involved in the political processes in Lebanon, unlike many other countries, because the Lebanese system is based on the confessional distribution of political power. There are 18 religious factions represented in the parliament. Today, there are six Armenian members of parliament, plus one cabinet minister.

During the last three decades, political turmoil led many Armenians to immigrate to Europe, the US and Australia, forcing the school systems to shrink and social life to deteriorate. That is how the community became more vulnerable.

Lebanon was once considered the jewel of the Middle East, with its beauty and lively café society, banking system, free-wheeling business atmosphere, etc. But two civil wars and political upheavals upset the entire country, which became an economic and social basket case. For a long time, Lebanon has served as the clearinghouse for all Middle Eastern political conflicts. Most regional and world powers try to solve their political problems there.

All these transformations took place as the major powers tried to force certain policies on Lebanon. For centuries, although demographic demarcations were visible, not because of religious issues necessarily, Western powers exploited religious fault lines to antagonize one power bloc against the other and that had its reflection in Lebanon.

A Sunni religious revival was encouraged to counter Shiite Iran, the parent entity of the powerful Hezbollah faction in Lebanon. An artificial Sunni bloc was created by the US, which tried to convince the Arabs that the enemy was Iran, when actually the Palestinian Arabs were suffering under an Israeli occupation.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were in a bloc together under the unwilling leadership of Saudi Arabia to contain Iran. The US tried to impose on Saudi Arabia a mutually exclusive policy, which was doomed to failure because on the one hand, Riyadh was assigned to lead the Sunni bloc, and on the other hand, it was aligned with Israel. Its diminishing economic and political support to the Palestinians disqualified it as a Sunni leader for the Arab street, however. That is where and when Turkey stepped in.

Turkey’s Ottomanist ambitions are not the creation of Armenian paranoia; they present a real plan and a threat to its neighbors. Turkey has always played the role of a necessary evil for NATO. Whenever a mischievous plan was hatched, it was assigned to Ankara to execute it. In return, the West lavishly rewarded Turkey with economic incentives and military hardware. That is how Turkey became the second largest standing army in the NATO structure, all the while pretending to carry out NATO missions. Turkey, in reality, has tended only to its own political agenda.

Today, it has reached a point where it can challenge its allies, the US included. Turkey has military bases in Somalia, Qatar and Libya and is an unwelcome guest in Cyprus, Iraq and Syria.

As Saudi Arabia has failed to assume leadership of the Sunni world, Turkey is vying for that position. It is championing the abandoned Palestinian cause, sometimes exchanging a war of words with Israel, all the while continuing its military and economic cooperation quietly. Turkey’s anti-Israeli rhetoric will prove to be the real deal only when Israel decides to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Turkey has penetrated Lebanon through its TV programs, news outlets and social services. It has imitated Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which had developed grassroots networking through its providing funds, medicine, education and other social services for the needy. By using the same methods, Turkey has developed a powerbase in north Lebanon, particularly in Tripoli, whence it extends its tentacles throughout the country.

Turkey has a common cause with Israel and the Sunni world to fight Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is both a militia and a political juggernaut dominating Lebanese politics. It is an irritant for Israel in the north, as it has forced the residual Israeli forces out of Lebanese soil. In addition, during the Syrian war, it proved to be an effective fighting force.

Today, the US is disposed toward destroying Lebanon to get rid of Hezbollah. As the saying goes in Armenian, they are trying to burn the rug to get rid of the bug.

The Turkish presence was long felt in Lebanon and it took only a spark to manifest itself fully.

The incident took place on June 11, when anchorman Nshan Ter-Harutyunyan was interviewing a former minister, Duyam Rahan, on Al-Jadeed TV. When a reference was made about Erdogan and Turkey’s nefarious policy in Lebanon, an insulting message arrived on Ter-Harutyunyan What’s App. He responded furiously and lo and behold, in a very short time, a caravan of cars surrounded the TV station and they began chanting anti-Armenian slogans.

The pro-Turkish group is called Mardinli and it has been transplanted from the city of Mardin in Turkey (former the stronghold of the Assyrians). Their leader, Mounir Hassoun, posted a message on his Facebook page, justifying the Armenian Genocide.

The incident shook the Armenian community. One of the Armenian members of parliament, Hagop Pakraduni, reached out to the interior minister. The three Armenian political parties — the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL), Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the Hunchaks — issued a statement deploring the incident.

The president of the group, Hassoun, at different times, has claimed to be a Turk, a Kurd and a Christian. One thing is certain though, that he hails from the ranks of mercenaries that Turkey has been dispatching to Syria, Libya and Lebanon to do its dirty work.

The last time Armenians faced such an existential threat was in 1982, during the civil war in Lebanon. The Armenian community had adopted a policy of positive neutrality in the war, to the chagrin of Christian forces. At that time, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon marched the Israeli army through the streets of Lebanon, allowing the Christian Phalanagist forces to slaughter Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila camps. The leader of the Maronite Phalangist forces, Bachir Gemayel, was elected president under the Israeli guns and assassinated in a few weeks. At one point, he threatened to invade Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian town, to massacre the residents. It took the combined efforts of the Pope, the US State Department and Armenian advocacy groups who met at the UN to stop the carnage.

Today, Armenians in Lebanon are more vulnerable than ever, as Turkey’s role has grown in the Middle East and in particular, in Lebanon.

Some Kurdish groups have offered their support to the Armenians. However, an alliance with the Kurds can only aggravate the situation further. At this moment, Turkish forces are massacring the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey; it is not wise to invite that murderous momentum to Lebanon.

Currently, the Armenians are in a precarious situation, at the mercy of an invisible political force. President Erdogan has a master plan and no one seems to be able to stop him from achieving it. He has repeated several times that Armenia is a hindrance to reaching Central Asia to unite Turkish-speaking peoples.

This was a dream that Enver Pasha failed to achieve at the end of World War I. Erdogan will pursue that same dream, even if it takes a second genocide by overrunning Armenia. The publication Nordic Monitor discovered a Turkish document featuring plans for the invasion of Greece and Armenia in 2014. The plan to invade Armenia is called Altay. It is not a surprise, considering that in the not-so-distance past, Turkish President Turgut Ozal verbalized his country’s plans by threatening to bomb Yerevan.

Turkish mercenaries destroyed Kessab and surrounding Armenian-majority villages during the Syrian war. Similarly, they bombed the Martyrs Memorial in Der Zor. Today, they are threatening Armenians in Lebanon. Perhaps next in their sights would be Armenia.

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