Identity Emancipation of Islamized Armenians in Syria
The Armenian community living under the autonomous administration of northern and eastern Syria is undergoing a great awakening. The Armenians in Syria, who are in the process of rebuilding themselves after the war they experienced, have encountered a different reality in the provinces in the north of the country. When we think of the Armenian community in Syria, we usually think of the community composed of Armenians who fled the genocide in 1915. However, a different reality has emerged in the north of the country.
In addition to the Christian Armenian community in Syria, which has always been known and written about, there is now an Armenian community that is in the process of returning to its original religion and identity.
Islamized, Kurdified, and Arabized Armenians are now embarking on a new road to embrace their original identity.
This awakening of identity, which has taken place at a much lower level in Turkey, has become a rapidly growing movement in northern and eastern Syria in recent years.
Personal value plays an important role in this. This shift, which ebbs and flows as the state escalates the oppression of its citizens in terms of identity and religion, has been on an upward trend in northern Syria, especially in Hasakah.
It turns out that the demographic balances can easily change if people are given the opportunity to choose for themselves.
Kurdish, Arab and other descendants who had Armenian daughters-in-law, mothers and grandparents in their families now learn Armenian in Hasakah, practice traditional Armenian dances and play the kochari in weekend folk groups.
I hear about all this from Arev Kasabian, co-chairman of the Assembly of Armenians of Northern and Eastern Syria, who visited Armenia last week.
Kasabian says that the number of hidden or converted Armenians in Syria's reshaping cities is in the thousands and that they make no distinctions between religions and allow anyone who identifies with the Armenian identity to participate in their programs and activities.
URFA TO HASSAKAH
Arev Kasabian is a veteran of the war against ISIS.
This courageous woman, who comes from an Armenian family that fled the genocide in Urfa in 1915, is currently visiting Armenia as co-chair of the Armenian assembly.
Let me add here what I shall say at the end. What she told me during our one-hour interview and what we talked about earlier made me proud as an Armenian.
She has a vision of a hopeful future that blossomed in the Syrian deserts, and I never thought that the energy and hope that Armenians around the world need these days would come from the Armenians who survived the massacres of ISIS.
'ARMENIANS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SHEPHERDS'
Arev Kasabian tells her family's story as follows:
"Every Armenian in Syria has such a story. In 1915, my great-grandmother was killed in the genocide. My ancestors came to Syria at the age of 10. My father was a fighter, and my mother was one of the survivors. Most of my family threw themselves into a well refusing to surrender.
We refer to the border between Syria and Turkey as above and below the railroad. At that time, my grandparents were told, "Go to the railroad and follow anyone you see below it to the south." My great-grandfather sought refuge in an Arab village in Syria.
They mugged him when he was a child and took away his gold and clothes. He was left naked. A Kurd found him, took him in and put him to work as a shepherd. Those who took care of them did not accept them as their own children, nor did they raise them as their own. These children always remained shepherd children. Until he was 17 years old, my grandfather grew up with this family. Finally, he left there because no one would give him a girl to marry.
Around that time, my grandmother finds him and marries him. They always remain Armenians and preserve their culture and language."
Unlike politicians in Turkey who nowadays ask each other to take a DNA test from the floor of parliamentary group meetings, in Hasakah no one asks anyone to take any test. Everyone is who they feel they are.
As a Kurdish-speaking Armenian, Kasabian, who met with many institutions from the Diaspora Department to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while in Armenia, says they were very well received in Armenia and made to feel welcome as a diaspora community. "We will keep in touch with the Armenian state. We are in full support of them," Kasabian said, before commenting on the images of tortured Armenian female soldiers that surfaced during her visit and were replayed on social media:
"We are all well aware of the atrocities and brutality of ISIS.
Today, the same atrocities are committed by Azerbaijan on Armenian territory with the same brutality. The pictures of dismembered Armenian female soldiers and this violence, which were recently posted on social media, are the mentality of ISIS. That is, the Azerbaijani state has also become ISIS."
Arev Kasabian's mood and stance today, her hopeful outlook on the future, shall shine like Arev's name as a "sun" for the young people who are in despair these days.
I hope that the experiences of the Syrian Armenians, who have built a new world for themselves out of ruins, can offer guidance to the despairing people in the countries around them.