Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad still enjoys considerable popular support and should therefore not be excluded from international efforts to end the bloody conflict in his country, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said on Friday.
“In this difficult situation of civil war in Syria we should reckon with the views of supporters of both President Assad and the opposition,” Nalbandian told senior parliamentarians from the Council of Europe meeting in Yerevan.
“The Syrian president enjoyed support in his country one year ago. We cannot neglect that. There are TV cameras here but I will say that he still enjoys it,” he said, adding that most Syrians do not support rebel forces trying to topple the ruling regime.
Armenia - Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian (second from right) attends a meeting of the PACE Standing Committee in Yerevan, 31May2013.
The remarks further exposed Armenia’s differences with the international community’s dominant approach to the Syrian conflict.
Armenia is one of the few countries that still have functioning diplomatic missions in Syria. Unlike Western nations and most of the Arab world, its leadership has avoided blaming the Damascus government for the continuing civil war there.
Yerevan’s stance reflects security risks facing tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians living in the Middle Eastern nation. Armenia’s close ties with Russia, a key international backer of al-Assad’s regime, might be another factor.
The Syrian president’s special envoy, Adnan Mahmud, visited Yerevan last month to meet Nalbandian and brief him on the latest developments on the ground. The Armenian minister was reported to call for a peaceful settlement involving “all sections of the Syrian society.”
President Serzh Sarkisian accused unspecified “regional states” of stoking the conflict in Syria during an official visit to neighboring Lebanon last November. Sarkisian appeared to point the finger at Turkey, which has openly sided with Syrian opposition groups.