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NURAY MERT > Turkey, Syria and Armenians in context

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From the beginning, the fact that the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria has been a dictatorial police state has been used as an excuse to turn a blind eye to the brutality of the opposition groups, especially against Alawites and Christians. Then, after facts started to be revealed in Western media, al-Qaeda-linked groups were held responsible for such atrocities even though it is still very difficult to draw a clear line between “the opposition” and al-Qaeda in Syria. It is true that the presence of al-Qaeda and its brutal attacks plays into the hands of the al-Assad regime which is eager to define all those in opposition as “terrorists” and is trying to legitimize the brutality of the regime forces as “war on terror.”

Nevertheless, it is also true that the so-called opposition ceased to be a real threat to the civil population in Syria after the whole affair turned into a brutal civil war. Besides, Christians in the Middle East have been among the first victims of radical Islamist groups. We should not forget that thousands of Iraqi Christians had to immigrate to Syria after the civil war there, even if it is an inconvenient truth that it was Syria which was a safe haven for Christians.    

As for the Turkish government, it first refused to acknowledge the existence of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and then refused to accept the fact that it is often very difficult to differentiate “the opposition” and radical Islamist groups like the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Moreover, Turkey continued to support “the opposition” in “its legitimate fight against the regime.” Now, the Turkish government is complaining about the campaigns of the Armenian diaspora, who have started to accuse Turkey of supporting the so-called opposition after a recent incident in an Armenian town. This campaign started after ISIL moved toward Latakia, and Armenians who lived on their way in Kasab had to flee to Latakia and Beirut. In the eyes of Armenians, it has become a symbolic act against Armenians, since it reminds them of the tragedy that befell Armenians who had to flee Turkey because of the deportations and massacres during World War I.

Needless to say, “the Armenian issue” continues to be a major bone of contention between Armenians who demand the recognition of the “Armenian genocide” and Turkey, which refuses to acknowledge this sort of grave crime against humanity. Nowadays, the Turkish government is accusing the Armenian diaspora of using the Kasab incident as a hostile tool against Turkey and giving al-Assad a helpful hand. It is in the middle of this war of words that two elderly Armenian women from Kasab were handled to Turkish authorities by the “Syrian opposition” and transported to the only Armenian village in the region, Vakıflı, near Antakya. This is how poor women who were hoping to go to Latakia found themselves in a border village in Turkey, they told journalists who interviewed them. Nevertheless, they are being portrayed as if they are the symbols of Turkey’s friendly politics concerning Syrian Armenians. Such politics do not stand any chance of convincing anybody, whether friend or foe.

As Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said, it is true that “Turkey conveyed to the Armenian community and to the United Nations its willingness to help in the evacuation of Armenians in Kasab.” Well, but one first has to answer this question; “Why evacuate Armenians from Kasab?” There are many other questions which should follow: Why do they want to flee to Latakia or Beirut? Why are the Christians of the Middle East the first victims of the changing Middle East? I think Turkey had better play a more positive and convincing policy for the peaceful future in the region, and I still believe that that is the mission of Davutoğlu, despite all the turbulence in Turkish foreign policy.

April/07/2014

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