Immediately after its launch this October, Turkey’s “Peace Spring” operation in northern Syria has become a huge headache for all sides of the Syrian conflict, but first and foremost for the US. Washington found itself cornered with two mutually exclusive options: salvage relations with its NATO ally Turkey or keep the promises given to the Syrian Kurds, a key US partner in Syria.
These same Kurds became the ultimate goal of the operation launched by Turkey who considers the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces a terror group due to its presumed ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party. Establishing a so-called “safe zone” should stabilize the situation in the area along the Turkey-Syria border, according to Ankara.
However, besides the Kurds, the border area hosts other vulnerable minorities who have good reasons to be wary of the Turkish offensive. The Armenian diaspora is on the top of the list.
Around 20,000 Armenians live in Syria’s northern provinces. Although the bulk of the Syrian Armenian populace is concentrated in the safety of Aleppo city, Armenian communities also remain in a number of towns located along the border, including Tel Abyad, Hasaka, Qamishli and so on.
When the Turkish operation kicked off, some of these communities witnessed armed clashes and shelling. In Tel Abyad, where multiple neighborhoods were targeted by Turkish artillery, the situation became so dangerous that the local diaspora leaders decided to evacuate the Armenian families.
Pressured by the US, Kurdish armed factions who controlled Tel Abyad refused to cooperate with the Syrian government, missing the opportunity to have the Syrian Arab Army enter the city to prevent the offensive by Turkish military and its proxies. The only hope for safety of the Syrian Armenians now rests on the unlikely agreement between Turkey and Russia.
Informed sources with knowledge of the results of the recent negotiations between Turkey’s Recep Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin indicated that safety of the Armenian diaspora in Syria was on the agenda of the meeting.
Turkish authorities are yet to make an official confirmation, but there is strong albeit indirect evidence in favor of this. In a telling move Turkish military commanders declared their readiness to meet the leaders of the Armenian diaspora in Tel Abyad to discuss the possibility of beginning reconstruction works at the local Christian church that was damaged in the shelling.
This article was written by Ahmad Al Khaled of the Special Monitoring Mission to Syria
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Masdar