Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday reportedly drew parallels between the Ottoman Turks who massacred Armenians a century ago and Islamist militants targeting innocent civilians in their bloody war against his regime.
Assad, whose own human rights record has been denounced by international watchdogs, again accused neighboring Turkey of sponsoring these “terrorists” as he met with Armenia’s visiting Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian in Damascus.
“President al-Assad noted that the suffering that the Armenian people experienced throughout their history is being experienced today by the Syrian people at the hands of the same murderous and terrorist sides,” reported the official SANA news agency.
Ankara’s strong support for Syrian rebels has “brought back the suffering that the region’s people experienced during the times of the Ottoman Empire,” it cited the Syrian strongman as saying.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem elaborated on this claim at a joint news conference with Nalbandian. “If the international community had imposed necessary punishment on the butchers who committed the massacres against Armenians in the early 20th century, then their descendants today in Turkey wouldn’t have dared to commit massacres via their pawns in Syria,” Moallem said, according to SANA.
Nalbandian seemed to agree. “Impunity gives rise to new crimes, as evidenced by brutal atrocities committed by the terrorists now,” he said.
Assad’s regime has repeatedly accused Turkey of providing military, logistical and political support to the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, the most successful of the Syrian rebel groups. Ankara denies these claims backed up by Western media reports.
The ISIS was widely blamed for last year’s destruction of an Armenian church in the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. The Saint Martyrs’ Church was part of a memorial complex to some 1.5 million victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. Many of them were starved to death in the desert surrounding Deir ez-Zor.
Nalbandian mentioned the church destruction, strongly condemned by the West, at the Damascus news conference. He also stressed that Syria became a “second homeland” for tens of thousands of Armenian survivors of the genocide.
While helping the descendants of those Armenians become a thriving community in Syria, successive Syrian governments avoided recognizing the 1915 mass killings as genocide. Assad pointedly declined to visit the genocide memorial in Yerevan during an official trip to Armenia in 2009. The Syrian leader, who had a warm rapport with then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time, instead offered to mediate more Turkish-Armenian fence-mending negotiations.
The situation changed dramatically after outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and ensuing deterioration of Ankara’s relations with the Syrian regime.
In March, Syria’s parliament held a special a session to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. “We express our solidarity with the friendly Armenian people, as well as our Syrian Armenian compatriots, who fell victim to the heinous genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman authorities,” its speaker, Mohammad Jihad al-Laham, said in a speech.
Laham was among foreign dignitaries who attended the April 24 ceremony in Yerevan that marked the genocide centennial.