Lebanon, Political comment, Syrian history, Western Colonisation

Ashshams: Part 1, The Armenian Tragedy 1915

Armenians 1915, Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Decline of the Turkish Empire, Russia and British Colonialism

Travel News, Anjar

This is a bit late in the day but when I visited Lebanon at Easter I managed to get to Anjar, my first attempt since 2013, when the ancient Ummiyyad site was closed. I’m sure I’ve written a little about Anjar previously but this time I’ll post a few photos of the site.  I’d heard about the gunfire that could be heard from Syria, which is just over the Anti-Lebanon mountain range and this year I heard it myself. This was disappointing as I’d met a few Syrian people in my hostel at Beirut, who confirmed the war was at an end in many areas to the West of the country.

On top of this the Syrian government has began issuing tourist visas, in Beirut, for short visits to Damascus. Mini vans have started going to Tartous, an Alawai area of Syria, from the centre of Tripoli, near the clock. People might remember, that the battles between the Lebanese Alawais and the Sunnis in Tripoli were a nightly occurrence from 2005, when Syria withdrew its troops, to 2014 when the Lebanese government intervened, finally.

I travelled to Anjar from Baalbek by means of two mini vans and had to walk from the main road, which leads to the Syrian border, into Anjar town: not too far and it was lovely and hot. On my way back I spotted a small Syrian refugee compound, an all too common site in Bekka. There is also the big refugee camp just outside the Maronite town of Zahle, which is near-by.

The first van took me to Chtura, the main traffic hub of Bekka Valley. I met two women, one of whom was Lebanese and the other Syrian. The Lebanese woman was an English speaker and after we discussed the pending carve up of Syria, she asked me who I thought might gain territory in the North of the country. Regretfully I answered Turkey, which really alarmed her and her Syrian friend, so we didn’t go on with that conversation. I don’t know if their reaction would have been different if I’d said the Kurdish.

My knowledge of the Armenian people is scant but I did have a gay friend in Aleppo, who was flambouyant to say the least. I hope he and his family fled as their business was near the citadel, which, as we know, fell under the occupation of Islamic State, until the Syrian government liberated it.

There a sizeable population of Armenians in the Bourj (tower) Hamoud suburb of Beirut, that houses the renowned Sunday market, which is not so much a souk as an under-cover car boot sale. The market sells just about everything that is useful and attracts visitors from all parts of the city and from further afield, I imagine. The district also includes Dowra, one of Beirut’s three bus stations, nevertheless Bourj is, for the most part, poor.

The Amenian tragedy of 1915

Anjar, situated so near the main Syrian border crossing, is far more opulent with its attractive housing and picturesque scenery.  I can only assume that lots of money comes in from the diaspora, as is the case with Zahle. Still I don’t envy the inhabitants having to put up with the constant gun fire from Syria and, until at least 2014, the possibility of Islamic State occupying their town. When I entered the ancient ruins I was given a leaflet by two young women, reminding visitors of the 1915 massacre, when large numbers of the Armenian population were driven from their towns in East Turkey to Syria and Lebanon.

I’m not trivialising the tragic events of 1915, when I say that trouble had been brewing for decades. However the origins of the massacre involved not only the Turkish but all the European governments, not least the Russian and the British. The following paragraphs contain a brief description of the events of 2015, which are now well documented, though that was not always the case as Kemal Ataturk refused to acknowledge the massacre when he took power in 1924, possibly because the ‘Young Turks’, the nationalist organisation he had once been a part of, was implicated, by some, in the bloodshed.

The Massacre

The forced removal, by the Turkish authorities, of the Armenians in 1915 resulted in a massacre, whereby an estimated half a million to one and half million lost their lives. The mass deportation occurred against the back drop of the 1914-1918 war, when the Turkish Ottoman empire was on its very last legs. The order came from the home secretary Taalat Pasha, who governed under the Sultan Mehmet v, though it is alleged in name only. Mehmet and his successors who ruled until 1924, when the Caliphate was abolished, were the remnants of a ruling class that had been in power for centuries. /2014/05/18/19th-century-colonisation-the-syrian-empire-the-plight-of-the-christians-cont-mandates-elections-and-all/  

There are many eyewitnesses to the massacre, including those of the American ambassador to the region, Henry Morgentau, though his account is supplemented by those of other eye witnesses. He describes how the ”able-bodied” men were slaughtered first, then how everyone else including nursing mothers and their babies were rounded up by the police and driven onto the dirt tracks that served as roads. The majority of people were forced to walk and all were followed by the police who prodded them with bayonets and refused them any rest. Mr Morgentau’s account implicates the Kurds and Arabs in the torture, robbery and rape that ensued. The Turkish police fell back after two weeks and left the Armenians to anyone who wished to prey upon them. By the time they reached Aleppo in the North of Syria, their numbers had diminished drastically.

The events leading to 1915 are discussed in the next post.




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