Sassounian: Syrian President Finally Recognizes Armenian Genocide

In a lengthy interview last week with Agence France Presse (AFP) on the tragic situation in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad made an unexpected reference to the massacres of 1.5 million Armenians. This is the first time that any Syrian head of state has acknowledged the mass murders and identified the perpetrator as Ottoman Turkey.

During the interview, Assad compared the Armenian Genocide of 1915 to the brutal killings of civilians by foreign fighters taking place in Syria today: “The degree of savagery and inhumanity that the terrorists have reached reminds us of what happened in the Middle Ages in Europe over 500 years ago. In more recent modern times, it reminds us of the massacres perpetrated by the Ottomans against the Armenians, when they killed a million and a half Armenians and half a million Orthodox Syriacs in Syria and in Turkish territory.”

Not surprisingly, two days later, Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, made a similar remark: “How about the Armenian Genocide where 1.5 million people were killed?”

The only other high-ranking Syrian official to have acknowledged the Armenian Genocide was Abd al-Qader Qaddura, then-speaker of the Syrian Parliament, when on July 16, 2001 he inscribed a poignant statement in the Book of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide Monument and Museum in Yerevan: “As we visit the Memorial and Museum of the Genocide that the Armenian nation suffered in 1915, we stand in full admiration and respect in front of those heroes that faced death with courage and heroism. Their children and grandchildren continued after them to immortalize their courage and struggle. … With great respect we bow our heads in memory of the martyrs of the Armenian nation—our friends—and hail their ability for resoluteness and triumph. We will work together to liberate every human being from aggression and oppression.”

While the parliament speaker’s 2001 statement was a candid and heartfelt message with no political overtones, the same cannot be said of Assad’s words on the Armenian Genocide, as he clearly intended to lash back at the Turkish government’s hostile actions against the Syrian regime. It is well known that Turkey has played a major role in the concerted international effort to topple Assad, by dispatching heavy weapons and arranging the infiltration of foreign radical Islamist fighters into Syria.

Relations between Syria and Turkey were not always hostile. Before the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, the two countries were such close political and economic allies that the Assad regime banned the sale of books on the Armenian Genocide, and did not permit foreign film crews to visit Der Zor, the killing fields of thousands of Armenians during the genocide. Mindful of possible Turkish backlash, Assad’s staff cancelled my courtesy meeting with the president in 2009 after they discovered my countless critical articles on Turkey on the internet. Moreover, during the honeymoon period between the Syrian and Turkish governments, Assad advised the visiting Catholicos Aram I that Armenians should maintain good relations with Turkey and not dwell on the past!

In his recent interview with AFP, Assad also complained about the failure of Western leaders to comprehend developments in the Middle East: “They are always very late in realizing things, sometimes even after the situation has been overtaken by a new reality that is completely different.” Frankly, one could make the same criticism about Assad for realizing at his own detriment, only too late, the dishonesty and duplicity of Turkey’s leadership.

Regrettably, the Syrian president is not the only head of state who has failed to decipher the scheming mindset of Turkey’s rulers. Countless Middle Eastern, European, and American leaders have made the same mistake, trusting Turkey’s feigned friendship, only to be let down when the time comes for Turkey to keep its end of the bargain.

In recent months, with the increasing dissatisfaction of the international community with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s autocratic policies and belligerent statements, it has become crystal clear that no one knows the true face of Turkey better than Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Kurds, who have suffered countless brutalities, massacres, and even genocide under despotic Turkish rule.

Despite Assad’s political motivations, Armenians should welcome his belated statement on the Armenian Genocide. After refraining from acknowledging the genocide for all the wrong reasons for so long, at least now the Syrian president is on record, telling the truth about past and present Turkish atrocities.

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Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

19 Comments

  1. First. Please stop calling Syrian Government as a regime! It is a ligament and the most Democratic Government in that entire region.
    Second actions speaks loader than words, when Syrian Government gave the Syrian Armenians green light to build hundreds of monuments commemorating the Armenian Genocide, when Armenian schools, business, stores were closed every April 24th, when they allow Armenians to build the memorial Church in Dair-Zor in a time when Syria was going under heavy International sanctions after first Islam Brotherhood’s so called “uprising”, that was a covered way of recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Don’t forget Syrian Government aid to Armenia and Karapakh……

  2. Սիրելիներ
    Նախագահին տուած արտայայտութիւնը չի համարուիր Ցեղասպանութեան ճանաչում, այլ դիւանագիտական յիշեցում մը Հայոց Եղեռնին մասին, ներկայ քաղաքական պայմաններուն առընթեր:
    Սուրիան հարկաւոր է որ ճանչնայ Հայկական Ցեղասպանութիւնը պաշտօնապէս, Սուրիան ինքն իսկ մեծ փաստ մըն է եւ ամենակարեւոր ՎԿԱՆ մեր պատմութեան ամենասեւ էջին:
    Եկէք բոլորս միասին պահանջենք այդ պաշտօնակացումը
    https://www.causes.com/actions/1758698-a-petition-to-the-president-of-syrian-arab-republic
    Տարածեցէք այս link-ը ֆէյսպուքի բոլոր էջերուն վրայ

  3. Regarding Bashar al-Assad’s comment acknowledging the Armenian Genocide,

    According to my Armenian Halepsi friends, some who know him personally,
    Mr. Assad and his family have always been supportive of Armenians and Chistians in general. He has helped Armenians be a part of Syrian society by supporting construction of Armenian Churches and cultural facilities. For that reason I believe his comments were sincere and that Armenians in the diaspora should support him in defeating the foreign fighters that are ravaging Syria and murdering Christians. These brigands, like Ottoman Turks, are destroying a culture that took centuries to establish. Remember, Syria is being invaded and at war with the insurgents. It’s tragic that in war innocent people get killed especially when the enemy hides and fights from civilian neihborhoods. Incidently, US policy regarding Syria is way out in left field!

  4. President Assad Grand Father helped the Armenian survivors during the years of the Genocide. Cfr the Biography of his father Hafez El Assad, it mentioned that clearly.

  5. harkankners tsez.gpapakim vor unenak arjani iravahachort tser hska yev tjvar kordzin mer azki badive yev badmutyune chvodnaharelu hamar.

  6. The following clarifications should be noted about President Assad’s reference to the Genocide of the Armenians.
    1. President Assad did not use the word Genocide, he referred to massacres. It may be that there is no word in Arabic for Genocide. Armenians who know Arabic well are invited to comment.
    2. President Assad likened the widespread massacres to terrorist acts. The Genocide of the Armenians was organized at state level. Atrocities perpetrated by States are legally binding unlike terrorism.
    3. President Assad did not refer to the massacre of the Armenians on behalf of the Syrian Government. Syrian Parliament, however rubber stamped, has not recognized the Armenian Genocide.
    4. It is surprising that Harut Sassounian would embrace what President Assad said and in the context he said when he so vehemently opposed if not condemened President Obama for using our term for the Armenian Genocide, Medz Yeghern.

  7. Ah, of course, it is not a political decision taken by a dictator who is responsible for 150.000 civilian lives in Syria.

    Turkey made a big mistake by not bombing Esad’s palace when Turkish plane was shot down two yrs ago.

  8. I am also irked that the Armenian Genocide issue is being played by every country which wants to put Turkey in its place when need be. If the Armenian Genocide has such a benefit, I am sorry to say, no country which has found such a golden goose would have incentive to recognize the Genocide. Instead they will dangle it over Turkey’s head to gain political points.

    From this article what I found most disturbing however was:

    “the two countries were such close political and economic allies that the Assad regime banned the sale of books on the Armenian Genocide, and did not permit foreign film crews to visit Der Zor, the killing fields of thousands of Armenians during the genocide”.

    Wow. Talk about bottom feeding political prostitution. When Armenian Genocide survivors settled in Syria, Aleppo was nothing. The Arabs there were behind in industrial development. In those years, Armenians had a very important impact on the development of Syria, building roads, buildings, factories, commerce, etc. And now this is the thank you we get?

    Then Mr Sassounian states: “Mindful of possible Turkish backlash, Assad’s staff cancelled my courtesy meeting with the president in 2009 after they discovered my countless critical articles on Turkey on the internet.”

    This again is very disturbing, and if I was Mr Sassounian I would be irate. I’m tempted to say Syria deserved what it got, but I will not. But I am very, very disappointed at what I read.

    Looking at it from another perspective, although it is an insult to us at how they turned the Armenian Genocide into a political tool, we have two ways to go about it, keep our egos high and tell them we don’t need their recognition, or acknowledge that politics are dirty and take every opportunity to score victories of our own by more and more countries recognizing historical truth. Also, the “first Islamic nation to recognize the Armenian Genocide” is overdue. It will probably be Iran, Iraq, Syria or Egypt.

  9. The Armenians should stop being so trusting and need to open their eyes and realize that, despite some of the good deeds displayed by their Muslim hosts towards their communities around the world, there is an incurable common disease among Muslim nations worldwide in regards to the proper and official acknowledgement and recognition of the Armenian Genocide and that disease is called the Muslim fraternity and brotherhood.

    The majority of people in Muslim nations, including their leadership, are programmed to hold Islam above all else and for one Muslim country to point fingers and accuse another Muslim country, Turkey in this case, of the crime of genocide against a non-Muslim nation, the Armenian nation, can be viewed as a blasphemous act. They are slaves to their faith blindly and are unable to break through religious barriers and look at things with naked eyes, so to speak. When you realize the hold Islam has over these people, which surpasses all historical truth and logic, then you will realize why they act the way they do. The exception to this rule is when it is politically convenient and that they feel the need to exploit such historical facts to save their own necks. That is not to say they don’t believe that genocide was committed against the Armenians by their fellow Muslim Turks because if they truly believed in such a thing they would not allow monuments to be built within the boundaries in which they govern. However, as members of this Muslim fraternity at large and unlike most Christian countries where there is the separation of the church and the state, they feel obligated to remain loyal to the collective but corrupt Muslim stand, as opposed to a Syrian stand for instance, towards anything non-Muslim and at best to remain passive and indifferent so as not to “insult” their fellow Muslims even though they are well aware of the facts that such criminal act was indeed committed by their fellow Muslims against non-Muslims. It is much more important to them to show a unified front than it is to display their humanity towards their victims. Lebanon may be an exception to this rule but then again Lebanon is not really a Muslim country.

    One would think that, of all the Muslim nations around the world, Syria should have been the first to condemn and formally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide given the fact that the desert of Der-Zor in Syria was one of the major destinations and focal points of the forced deportation and mass extermination of the Armenians.

  10. I am a proud Armenian born in Syria and I need to clarify several issues about the Assad Family.
    First of all the Assad family LOVE Armenians and treat us extremely well. Hafez Assad, Bashars, late father, had a private secretary who was Armenian. One of his personal body guards was Armenian. On his several trips to Moscow, the late president Hafez Al-Assad, stopped in Yerevan and drank in honour of Armenians with the Armenian president at the time. If I include all other aspects about Armenians in Syria it would be several hundred pages.

    The Turkish race is very well known for its cheatings and deceit with other nations. Mustapha Kemal Attaturk, cheated and lied to Lenin in the 1920’s promising him that Turkey would become Communist if and when his revolution succeeds provided Lenin sent him arms and funds. Lenin obliged and we know the rest of the story. The same think happened to Bashar by the Turkish P.M.

    • We all know the story.
      Go back to Syria and fight there. You people bring shame to Armenia and Armenians.
      “Assad family LOVE Armenians” is that why they banned filming of the mass graves in Der Zor? The same evidence that was lacking in the European Human Right Court recently? But you don’t care about things like that. You’ve been programmed to hate everything Western, programmed to forget about the genocide too. You don’t care about other Armenians, you only care that YOU were treated well but not other Armenians hurt by their actions. Especially Armenians in Armenia.

    • Kevork, the Assads may like Armenians, but that is at a personal level, but what about at the state level? If in fact it is true about what has been written here, then their love or Armenians is disingenuous since they are in control of the state. I am surprised with our contribution and presence in Syria for this long, and nothing to acknowledge the Genocide. Syria should have recognized the Armenian Genocide YESTERDAY. Instead we read this disturbing report by Mr Sassounian. Don’t get me wrong, we all know the Assad government is better for everyone in Syria, including even the Sunnis, because the alternative is Saudi Arabian style throat slitting Salafi extremism.

  11. 1) Did Barack Obama use the word “genocide” in his presidential statements?
    NO.
    2) Did Harut Sassounian say that Obama had recognized the genocide?
    NO.
    3) Did Bashar al-Assad used the word “genocide” in his declarations to a press outlet?
    NO.
    4) Did Harut Sassounian say that Assad had recognized the genocide?
    YES.
    A fifth obvious question comes by itself:
    5) How come?

  12. It’s not important when or why President Assad of Syria has recognized the Armenian Genocide. Every head of state should judge there own for not recognize or do nothing positive towards a sanction against Turkey in order to put some pressure. But let’s openly talk about this that the real criminals who conspired the deportation are the Zionist after Gulbenkian had discovered the Kirkuk oil. This explains why Israel, GB & Washington refused to recognize our tragedy !

  13. My trust is lost towards all and everyone. The moral compass of every nation is lost. Every country will use our darkest page and the murder of our nation to score points…

    The Armenian Genocide will be recognized by nations only when it suits them to do so. Politics is politics everywhere.

  14. Սիրելիներ
    Նախագահին տուած արտայայտութիւնը չի համարուիր Ցեղասպանութեան ճանաչում, այլ դիւանագիտական յիշեցում մը Հայոց Եղեռնին մասին, ներկայ քաղաքական պայմաններուն առընթեր:
    Սուրիան հարկաւոր է որ ճանչնայ Հայկական Ցեղասպանութիւնը պաշտօնապէս, Սուրիան ինքն իսկ մեծ փաստ մըն է եւ ամենակարեւոր ՎԿԱՆ մեր պատմութեան ամենասեւ էջին:
    Եկէք բոլորս միասին պահանջենք այդ պաշտօնակացումը
    https://www.causes.com/actions/1758698-a-petition-to-the-president-of-syrian-arab-republic
    Տարածեցէք այս link-ը ֆէյսպուքի բոլոր էջերուն վրայ

  15. Berge
    What you are saying is a diversionary argument to shift the responsibility from the real culprits to some other party, which was not involved at all in the Genocide, though it may not have been as friendly as one would have expected. As such your assertion doesn’t serve our case at all, but rather creates confusion and disorientation in the recongnition process.

    • Actually, Berge brings up an interesting point. I think we have been unable to get recognition for the Genocide, for example from the US/UK because we have been going after the wrong country: Turkey. I have come to realize, Turkey is the mouthpiece of the west when it comes to recognizing our Genocide. Yes, Turkey is doing its own duty of “protecting its interests” diligently, but in reality, that is exactly what the UK/US/NATO/EU want. If this mentioned group wanted it, Turkey would recognize the Genocide overnight. BUT, we may not even have a choice but go after the wrong country anyway, because going after the decision makers of the world might lessen our chances further.

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