Thousands of Armenians have suffered the fate of other Syrians during the conflict as they have been forced out of their homes due to fighting and ISIS terror. An Armenian family from Raqqa recount what befell them as they were expelled from their home and are now in a similar position to that of others who have been displaced, as they suffer from a shortage of food and basic necessities.
Armenian communities throughout Syria have seen their monuments and belongings damaged, destroyed and appropriated by militant groups. In September 2013, ISIS militants removed the crosses from the Armenian Church of Martyrs as well as the Catholic Church of “Lady of the Annunciation” in Raqqa and burned their contents. They burned the church, its Bibles and the statue of Mary and Christ.
There are only a handful of Armenians who remained in the city after the ISIS terrorist had seized control.
ISIS also destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir ez-Zour, the site of the most significant massacres during the Armenian Genocide.
The attack on the Armenian-populated village of Kessab in north-western Syria, in the Latakia province, in 2014, brought about the ire and sympathy of the Armenian diaspora, which led to a global campaign called “Save Kessab”. Kessab has immense symbolic significance as it has been inhabited by Armenians for over a thousands since the era of the Cilician Armenian Kingdom. The attack on the village was part of the Latakia offensive of 2014, which was launched by a variety of rebel forces that included al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army. The sensitivity surrounding the attack was exacerbated by the fact that some of the rebels were supported by Turkey.
Several thousands of Armenians have left Syria as a result of the ongoing conflict and a significant proportion of those have emigrated to Armenia, despite the harsh economic conditions of the country and difficulties integrating into the new surroundings.
Most of the Armenians of Syria have called Syria home for around a century as they are predominantly descendants of the Armenian Genocide that occurred during the First World War. The Armenian communities of Syria have been mainly concentrated in Aleppo and Damascus, as well as a number of villages in the north of the country.
The majority of Armenians have stayed neutral throughout the Syrian conflict due to the severe repercussions that it would have by taking sides. This is a continuation of the traditional relationship that Armenians have had with their host states in the Middle East (especially Lebanon, Syria and Jordan), where they have prioritised maintenance of their communities over heavy involvement in national political affairs. This attitude was epitomized by a statement made by the Catholicos of Cilicia, Aram I, based in Lebanon, who said “we as a community, we should not associate ourselves with any given regime, political ideology or person, they are provisional…we remain attached to the supreme interests of Syria”.
Nevertheless, the Armenian communities, as well as other minority communities such as the Syriacs, have been targeted by ISIS due to their discriminatory stance towards Christians and all those that do not fit the terrorist group’s restrictive and totalitarian vision.