Harut Sassounian’s latest column, titled “Syrian President Finally Recognizes Armenian Genocide,” sheds light on the record of the Syrian government regarding the Armenian Genocide. The article however, ends with an unexpected conclusion, raising serious concerns.
In his column, Sassounian recounts in detail the cold attitude of the Syrian government regarding the issue of the Armenian Genocide during the period when Syria was in deep political and economic cooperation with Turkey (1999-2011). Much can be said about Syria’s record during that period, but the purpose of this article is to dwell less on the past and more on the present and the future.
Syrian President Mr. Bashar al-Assad, in his last interview with AFP, mentioned “the massacres perpetrated by the Ottomans against the Armenians.” Sassounian, who is very sensitive when it comes to the use of the term “genocide” by U.S. presidents, seems to have been satisfied with Assad’s choice of words and called on Armenians to welcome Mr. Assad’s “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,” writes Sassounian, despite acknowledging Mr. Assad’s political motivation to pressure Turkey.
As a citizen of the Syrian Arab Republic and a proud member of the awakening Syrian society, I would have much preferred to see the representatives of the government of my country make official statements on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in times of peace—and not in the time of war, out of political expediency, and to blackmail Turkey.
True, Armenian Genocide recognition by various parliaments and governments usually comes in an environment of lobbying and political alliances, but the basic reason for Syria to recognize the Armenian Genocide is the historic burden. Syria, after all, is a land of witnesses to the genocide. Neighboring Lebanon is a case in point. The Lebanese parliament recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2000, without pressure and without seeking political dividends in the region.
I am also a proud citizen of the Republic of Armenia and part of its awakening society. We should be aware of the fact that Armenia still sets the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as a foreign policy priority. Therefore, I regard Mr. Sassounian’s call to welcome the Syrian President’s statement deeply problematic. Welcoming such a statement undermines the moral high ground on which we stand as a nation that demands justice.
There is an enormous difference between the impact of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide at a time when the representatives of the Syrian government aren’t welcomed and are condemned on the international arena, and its impact at the time when they were the belle in the ball in most regional and international meetings and summits.
Mr. Sassounian, who is known as a fierce fighter of Turkish state propaganda, should not rule out the possibility that statements such as Assad’s could end up serving the policy of denial. Sometimes, the fact that the truth is being spoken is not as important as who is speaking it. Are we really that desperate to adopt Mr. Assad as a defender of our cause?