The Armenians have a long history in the Syrian economic capital of Aleppo, dating back to the 11th Century A.D. when the Seljuk Turks captured Byzantine controlled Armenia, creating the first known diaspora of Armenians from their ancestral homeland in the East Anatolia of present-day Turkey.
Following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, hundreds of thousands of Armenian civilians poured into northern Syria, settling in the provinces of Aleppo, Al-Hasakah, Al-Raqqa, Latakia, and the Homs.
However, the largest community of Armenians in the Middle East (1915-present) still resides in historical Aleppo City, despite the founding of present day Armenia in 1918.
Syrian-Armenians in Present-Day Syria:
Syrian-Armenians have remained an integral part of Syrian society, with many civilians enjoying Syrian citizenship, while also being allowed to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity amid the rise of Arab Nationalism in the 1950s.
It should come as no surprise that Syrian-Armenians have a long storied history in the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), as tens of thousands of Armenian men have served on the frontlines of every 20th Century Syrian war; in fact, one of the founding fathers of the aforementioned army was a Syrian-Armenian man, ‘Aram Karamanoukian (1910-1996) – he remains beloved in his adopted home of Aleppo.
Armenians in the Syrian Army:
Since the inception of the Syrian Conflict (2011-present), the Syrian-Armenian community has remained ardently loyal to the Syrian Arab Army and Syrian Government, serving on the frontlines of every major battle against the Syrian Opposition forces.
Known as fierce fighters, many Syrian-Armenian men conscripted in the Syrian Arab Army tend to serve in the 106th Brigade of the Republican Guard – a predominately Christian contingent of the Special Forces that is predominately made-up of Syrian Armenians from Aleppo and Syrian Christians from the northern Hama city of Mhardeh.
When Aleppo came under attack by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Summer of 2012; it was the Syrian-Armenians that took up arms to protect their districts inside the city.
Without the fierce resistance from the Syrian-Armenians in Aleppo City, the future Islamist rebel fighters would have overrun the historical districts of the provincial capital.
Induction into the National Defense Forces (NDF):
In early 2014, the Syrian Arab Army’s Central Command – under the guidance of Iranian military advisors – formed the civilian-led “National Defense Forces” to protect areas where the Syrian Arab Army is absent.
Within weeks, the NDF was flooded with recruits from all over Syria; however, following the Al-Qaeda, FSA, and Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham’s offensive at the predominately Armenian town of Kassab, this civilian-led militia received a significant boost of 17,000 Armenian volunteers from Aleppo City in order to protect their land.
When the Syrian Arab Army recaptured the town of Kassab in late 2014, they were assisted by hundreds of Syrian-Armenian volunteers from Aleppo, who viewed this battle as a moral imperative against the Islamist forces attempting to force another diaspora.
Defense of Aleppo:
Save the Palestinians of Nayrab Refugee Camp, Al-Ba’ath Brigades, NDF, and the Syrian Arab Army, there has been no other force inside of Aleppo City that has helped defend the provincial capital from Islamist rebel militants like the Armenian militias.
In June 2015, the newly formed conglomerate of Al-Qaeda groups “Ansar Al-Halab” launched a large-scale offensive in west and north Aleppo, capturing territory in the Al-Rashideen District after fierce clashes with the Syrian Armed Forces.
Where the Islamist rebels couldn’t advance at were the Al-Khalidiyah, Al-‘Azizah, and Suleimaniyah Districts, as the Syrian-Armenian NDF soldiers were unwilling to concede an inch of ground to the Al-Qaeda forces.
The Syrian-Armenians of Aleppo label the Islamist rebel fighters as “Ottoman terrorists”, motivating their people to defend their land from – who they believe to be – the same forces that committed the 1915 Genocide.