Armenians in Aleppo regard Turkey as ‘first enemy’ –

Armenians in Aleppo regard Turkey as ‘first enemy’ –


Maria Karjian threw back her head and laughed.

“We used to call this Midan St but now we call it Tora Bora,” she said.

 How did a street in the Armenian district of Aleppo come to be nicknamed after the caves where the Taliban fought in Afghanistan? It lies on the frontline between Syrian government-held west Aleppo and the rebel controlled east.

Rubble is strewn across the road and the front half of an orange car has taken a direct hit, probably from a rocket. Maria pointed up to the second storey apartment. Part of the wall was missing.

“My mother was inside when the bomb hit,” she said.

Syria’s Armenian community are staunch supporters of President Bashar al-Assad whose picture adorns almost every shop window. As Christians, one of Syria’s minorities, they see him as their protector against Islamism and the old enemy, the Turks.

In the complexity of the current conflict, it’s easy to forget the strong grip of the past. The Armenians, victims of genocide by Turkish forces in 1915, at the end of WW1, fear history repeating itself. President Erdogan has been clear that he wants to see the overthrow of President Assad. Turkey has not only backed the opposition groups that control the streets just east of Midan but also allowed foreign fighters to cross its border to fight for the Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda linked group Jabat al-Nusra.

The old enemy

“Turkey is the first enemy,” said Pierre Bedrossian, a local businessman who showed me around. “They know Armenians live here. Everyone knows.”

It’s unlikely that the Armenians were uppermost in President Erdogan’s mind when he decided to back the Syrian rebels. He is a Sunni, with ideological roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, while Assad is an Alawite, from the Baath Party and linked to Shi’a Iran. They are sectarian, political and regional rivals.

Still, the visit to Midan got me thinking about how Turkey’s struggles are entwined in this war. The Turks are still refusing to allow weapons across the border for the Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants in Kobani. Why? One Turkish minister said he saw it as “a battle between two terrorist groups”.

The Syrian Kurds are linked to the PKK, the Kurdish group which has been fighting the government within Turkey for decades. The Turkish state still sees the Kurds as more of a threat than the jihadis.

In a half destroyed health centre, Pierre and his friends showed me a small library.

“This is our culture,” they said. “We fear it will be destroyed.”

At least half of Aleppo’s Armenians have left the country, most for Lebanon. Once again, their community is divided and endangered. And once again, they regard Turkey as the chief cause of their problems.

By Lindsey Hilsum

Channel 4

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