In a move welcomed by Armenia, Syria’s parliament has voted to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey following the latest upsurge in tensions between Damascus and Ankara.
“The parliament ... condemns and recognizes the genocide committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman state at the start of the twentieth century,” reads the resolution adopted by it on Thursday.
The resolution followed deadly clashes between Syrian and Turkish troops in Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib. The Turkish military has sent reinforcements to the jihadist-dominated area after an offensive launched by Syria’s Russian-backed army.
The Syrian parliament speaker, Hammouda Sabbagh, condemned the Turkish “aggression” as the legislature fully controlled by Syria’s ruling regime unanimously passed the Armenian genocide resolution.
“We are currently living through a Turkish aggression that relies on the same hateful Ottoman thinking” as "the crimes carried out by [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's forefathers against the Armenian people", Sabbagh said, according to the AFP news agency.
The Turkish government, which vehemently denies a systematic government effort to exterminate the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population, condemned the resolution, saying that it reflects the “hypocrisy of a regime which has indulged in every kind of carnage towards its own people.”
Predictably, the genocide resolution was hailed by Armenia.
“The genocide … a significant part of which was perpetrated in the territory of Syria under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, is part of the common historical memory of the Armenian and Syrian peoples,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“The Syrian people … were among the first to lend a helping hand to the victims of the genocide. Thousands of survivors found a new homeland in Syria, establishing one of the most flourishing Armenian communities and contributing to Syria’s progress,” added the statement.
Many of an estimated 1.5 million victims of the World War One-era genocide were killed on their way to a vast desert in what is now eastern Syria. Many other Armenians were starved to death after reaching the desert on foot.
A genocide memorial in the area contained some of the remains of the victims and served as a pilgrimage site for Syria's Armenians before it was bombed by jihadists in 2014. Visiting the site in 2010, then-Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said it is to Armenians what Auschwitz is to the Jews.
While helping descendants of survivors of those death camps become a thriving community in Syria, the Syrian government for decades avoided recognizing the 1915 mass killings and deportations as genocide. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pointedly declined to visit a genocide memorial in Yerevan during an official trip to Armenia in 2009. Assad had a warm rapport with Erdogan at the time.
The situation changed dramatically after the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011 and ensuing deterioration of Ankara’s relations with the Syrian regime. In March 2015, the Syrian parliament held a special a session to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Two months later Assad drew parallels between the Ottoman Turks who massacred Armenians and Islamist rebels in Syria who he said are sponsored by Ankara.