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Armenians` position in the Middle East – following the Arab awakening

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The world community is seriously concerned about the processes taking place in the Arab world, which, no doubts, will lead to emergence of new trends in global geopolitics. There is a difference of opinion as to causes of these events. Ideas vary from the regional countries` demand of democratic changes to the West`s plans to gain control over new markets.    

In our opinion these processes originate from the requirements of the new world order given the fact that the Middle East is one of the important regions in the world geopolitics.  

And in order to forecast these events we should look at the Greater Middle East concept coined by the 43rd president of the United States of America George Bush in 2003. Under this concept, the United States` strategy in the region, which stretches from Morocco in the West to Pakistan in the East, from Turkey in the North and to Sudan in the South, is aimed at fighting the enemy called “international terrorism”, taking control over oil sources extending from Central Asia to the Gulf region, neutralizing newly emerging powers (China, Russia and India), and strengthening influence in the Islamic world.

The reason behind this is the growing number of anti-Western moods in the Greater Middle East region, and China`s and Russia`s strengthening economic power.

And democratic revolutions take place in those countries of the region, which are not allies of the West, or those, which attempt to get out of its sphere of influence. As far as the West`s allies, which completely ignore democratic processes, are concerned they are not supposed to be involved in the Arab awakening .

Another point is that the process has set in motion a chain of events, which seem  to be having a domino effect, the majority of experts believe that the events started in Tunisia and then swept through Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria. However, our opinion is that the first target was Sudan. One of the secret reasons behind the division of Africa`s largest nation is its cooperation with China, the West`s key opponent, in most of economic projects. Although neutralization of China`s interests in Africa led to the division of Sudan, the country`s fate is not yet clear.

The ongoing processes in the region, which the U.S. called the Greater Middle East, have one unique feature. Although it is external interference which stands behind these events, they cannot be fully controlled. The processes progress very rapidly, with the goals and achievements of external forces and internal actors frequently differing. The processes can even produce the reverse effect, and go against the West`s interests.

It is already apparent that the possibility of radical Islamists` coming to power in several countries thwarts the West`s plans. The true picture shows that in its plans concerning Arab countries the West did not take into account local Christian communities, which closely cooperate with ruling regimes. And this is clearly visible in Iraq, Egypt and Syria.

Against a background of all these processes, Armenians living in Middle East countries have quite an interesting position. The Middle East is one of the regions where Armenia enjoys strongest diaspora presence, which has great economic resources and lobbying power.   

According to the Armenian diaspora`s internet information, there are between 500,000 and one million Armenians in the Middle East region, with their largest communities being in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. There are also well-organized Armenian communities in Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, as well as in Israel – in Jerusalem. Armenians are a national or religious minority in these countries, and they benefit from certain privileges. They are represented in the Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian parliaments, as well as in the Lebanese government.

It should be noted that Armenians skillfully use their religion to achieve political goals. In Lebanon`s balance of confessions, Armenians have the right to be represented separately as Gregorians, Catholics, Protestants, and Evangelists. Lebanon gives privileges to religious and not national minorities, which is the main factor conditioning Armenia`s division into religious sects. One can hardly find a second such nation which has so many religions like Armenia. And it is political ambitions that stand behind this.

Historically, Armenians have always been a traitor nation in the Middle East, and have served the interests of their Christian patrons.

Armenians betrayed Turks, their own protectors, as early as crusades, and other Muslims, mostly Arabs, by fighting on the side of the crusaders.

There are tens of evidences that Armenians betrayed the cities (Edessa, Antioquia), which were attacked by the crusaders. (1) And the only reason how they managed to live in safety in these areas is the tolerance of Turks and, in general, Muslims` mercy.

And Armenians` position has remained unchanged against a background of ongoing processes in the Arab world. And although Armenians are trying to present themselves as neutral in the Syrian political scene, in fact, the situation is quite different.

In Syria, the Alawis, who make just 11% of the total population, are in government control and hold high positions within the society. The Sunnis, who make the majority of Syria`s population, are in opposition. In this situation, the Alawis` only allies are Christians, another minority in Syria (10 %).  Non-Sunni groups of the population understand that the overthrow of the regime will mean nothing good to them, and fear that like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, Syria will also shift from secularism to Islamism. Therefore, Syria`s religious minorities mostly support the Bashar Assad regime (2). However, they have representatives among opposition, and even among the Alawis themselves. 

Syria is today home to nearly 200,000 Armenians, who have been permanently represented in the country`s parliament since 1928. Under the Asad regime, Armenians live a quite stable life within their community, and their insignificant migration is caused mostly by economic problems.

Although the Armenian diaspora has pretended to remain aloof since the anti-government protests started in Syria, they mostly support the regime. According to Armenian weekly, one of the main publications of the Armenian diaspora, in fact, some Syrian Armenians have vocalized their support for Assad by taking to the streets in pro-government rallies, while a few are working for the Syrian intelligence service. (3)

None of public or political organizations of the Armenian community in Syria has raised any issue with the government or express any position regarding the events. Armenians did not even express any public position when the government army carried out operations in Homs, which has the second largest Christian population in the country.

In the Syrian National Council, Sunnis, Alawis, Christians, Druze, Assyrians, Kurds, Circassians are represented as a group, while Armenians are not. There are two factors standing behind the Armenian community`s passivity: a negative attitude towards the Christians as a result of changes in other Arab countries, in particular in Egypt and Iraq, and close relations of the Syrian National Council, which is in opposition to the government, with Turkey.

Armenians prefer to put up with the current regime and enjoy social freedoms, rather than turn into another Iraq. Those freedoms may disappear tomorrow if the Muslim Brotherhood or other hard-line Sunni Muslim groups come to power. These, in our opinion, are major reasons why Armenians still refrain from joining the opposition camp.

However, Armenians are concerned about the current state of affairs and their fate in the country. Their common opinion about the future of the Armenian diaspora in Syria is that “the participation in political processes as supporters or opponents of the government is important in terms of ensuring the future of the Armenian community”.

Being a community Armenians should link their fate neither with the current government nor with the opposition. Idealistically, a strong political strategy for Armenians would be to participate in both sides of this conflict thus integrating themselves into the processes and making demands in order to ensure that the interests of the Armenian community are taken into consideration. Other minority groups have already adopted this strategy, most notably Kurds and Assyrians. Their participation in the revolution, for example, has succeeded in forcing the opposition to address their demands as ethnic minorities, and specific clauses in the constitution of the oppositionist Syrian National Council are dedicated to them that guarantee their national rights as Assyrians and Kurds. (4)  

Armenians` dual policy in the Middle East has already justified itself in Lebanon. According to unofficial figures, the country, which has conducted no census since 1932, is home to about 250,000 people of Armenian descent, 4% of the total population. In Lebanon, Armenians have 6 seats in the parliament, and hold 2 ministerial positions in the government. There are three Armenian denominations recognized by Lebanon as religious sects: the Orthodox Armenians, Catholic Armenians and Evangelist Armenians.

The Lebanese Armenians are known for supporting any ruling regime. Main Armenian parties in Lebanon are Dashnaktsutsun, Hnchak and Ramgavar. During the Lebanese Civil War, Armenians did their best to remain neutral. The Armenian political forces were among both non-partisans and fighting groups during the war.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnagsutun party) backed Shia Hizbullah and Christian Free Patriot Movement. And Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Hnchak) and Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (Ramgavar) were in the camp of Sunni Party of Future and Maronite Lebanese Forces. Armenian terrorist organization ASALA was also one of main participants in the war, and allied with radical Lebanese and Palestinian groups against the right.

Though being in different camps, the Armenian parties have always maintained contacts with each other, managing to have secured their interests and to have been represented in the government regardless of who is in power. The consequences of the conflict did not play a decisive role in Armenians` political strategy.

Armenians pursued a dual policy in Iraq as well. On the eve of the military intervention by the United States and its allies to Iraq Christians in the country, in particular Armenians were making a plea for help saying they were persecuted for religious grounds.

In fact, they wanted to serve external forces in order to gain more privileges. However, further events showed that they had failed to guess the scenario. The fall of Saddam Huseyn`s regime marked an outburst of aggression towards Christians, which resulted in mass migration. At least 3,000 or 4,000 people out of an 18,000-strong Armenian community fled Iraq after the military intervention, with the rest hesitating. At the same time, the Iraqi president is an instructive example for the Syrian Armenians.

There is also news about Armenians` involvement in the events in Libya. This was proved after evidence emerged that an Armenian plane transported arms from Moldova to Benghazi.

And the West`s turning a blind eye to Armenians` open arms trafficking is a curious paradox. Armenians are also playing the role of troublemakers in Jerusalem. Every year Armenian monks have problems and even clash with representatives of other Christian confessions at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

Thus, Armenians remain committed to the traditional position in the Middle East region. This nation, which has never known what the loyalty is, time after time inclines towards one of the poles. Armenians, who for the sake of their interests represent all poles, are ready to betray anyone regardless of who they serve. Historically, being an instrument in the hands of world powers, Armenians are ready to sacrifice anyone if needed. This position of theirs clearly shows in the processes in the Middle East too.

References:

1. Кэрол Хилленбранд. Крестовые походы. Взгляд с востока мусульманская перспектива. Москва. 2008.

2. Kurt J. Werthmuller Research Fellow, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom/ Setting Up Triage in Syria: Strategies to Save a Struggling Nation’s Minorities/ 28 mart 2012

3. Nanore Barsoumian. Between a rock and a hard place: the Armenians in Syria. February 16, 2012. http://www.armenianweekly.com

4. Syrian revolution and future of the Armenian community – Filor Nigoghosian March 8, 2012. http://www.syrian-christian.org

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