“Who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” ~ Adolf Hitler
I was talking to my Syrian friend, Saad, today about the situation in Syria and his family still living in Syria. Saad’s father came to America about a year ago, fleeing the civil war. His father now hangs out at Mediterranean Mart most days, the grocery store Saad owns. He owns land and property in Syria, but knew that he was risking his own life if he were to stay. Being a landowner isn’t a good prospect in a civil war. If you have something that can be taken away, you are at risk.
He has a brother, John, whose family is still living in Syria and is seeking assylum. John is married and has two children, and his wife, Arwad, is 7 months pregnant with their third child. Even if they are granted visas to travel outside of Syria, they will have to wait until the birth of their third child as his wife is now in her third trimester and unable to travel. They are stuck.
He has other family, his sister-in-law’s family, who are meeting today with the decision-makers at the U.S. Embassy in Syria. Saad said that if all goes well, there may be two more people hanging out at the shop that have been rescued from the violence.
Saad is Armenian. He is one of about 8-9 million Armenians still alive today. About 8 million of them are displaced, not living in Armenia. You probably don’t know about the Armenian genocide that took place during World War 1 in the Ottoman Empire. It is estimated that about 1.5 million Armenian Christians were murdered while the world was distracted with the war in Europe. Only tens of thousands of Armenians survived the genocide, and they were displaced throughout the northern Middle East. A people without a land.
Adolf Hitler used this genocide as motivation for his own genocide of Polish Jews prior to the beginning of World War II. Benjamin Netanyahu, when he was Prime Minister the first time, proposed the same sort of thing during the first Iraq war, to eliminate the Palestinians while the world is not looking. “Who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Saad grew up in Syria as a Christian under the previous Assad regime, which was equally horrible as the current one. He fled the country 12 years ago when President Bashar al Assad took control of the country as successor to his father’s dictatorship. He knew then, he told me today, that things were about to get worse in Syria. He is the face of the minority in Syria. He is Syrian, but he is also Armenian. He is a person without a land.
Saad brought up several points in our conversation that are worth contemplation:
1. Democracy won’t succeed in Syria. Saad said that life under a dictatorship, even a bad one, is safer than life in a democracy in the Middle East. You don’t have to look too hard to see truth in that statement. Just look at Egypt today. They had their first democratic election in decades less than two years ago, and the country is already spiraling into civil unrest and likely civil war. The problem is that there are about 20 guys vying for power in a new democracy. So, even if someone wins an election, they don’t win a majority. One would only need to win 6% of the votes to win the election, in theory. And the 94% of people who did not want the new President in power are prone to revolt at the first sign of weakness, incompetency, or lack of ability to bring about change. Democracy is a recipe for Civil War (this happened in our history, remember?). He said that Iraq was better off with Saddam Hussein in power than in their current form of democratic government. He said it will take at least 20 to 30 years (and I think more like generations) for democracy to actually work in the Middle East.
2. When the good people flee, there is little hope for the country. Saad relayed that the only people that are staying in Syria are the poor and the evil. The poor people don’t have a choice: they can’t afford to flee. The evil people want to stay: they believe that there is honor in killing the enemy, whether they be Alowite or Sunni. If all of the “good” people leave, who will stand up for justice? Who will turn the country around? How can we think that Sunni rebels, bent on killing the Alowite ruling minority, can establish a fair and free democratic political system? How can we think that the Alowite ruling minority, bent on maintaining power, will ever bend their will towards a fair and free democratic political system? They have everything to lose. I asked Saad who is going to return to Syria after all of this dies down. Who, of the “good” people, will be willing to return to a wasteland in order to rebuild it? He sighed, and only could compare Syria to Afghanistan 10 years ago. There’s little hope.
3. War makes people think inhumanely about people. Saad told me a guy from Syria came into the store last week and started talking politics with him. He relayed a story about a group of Alowite extremists who executed three semi-truck drivers from Iraq based on their religion. The Alowites beheaded the three semi-drivers. The guy said that beheading is a merciful way to execute the enemy. Saad said he was so mad, that if he didn’t have a business to run, he would have kicked the guy out of the store and told him never to return. How could he say that beheading was merciful? The guy continued to relay another story from Syria. He told Saad about the Sunni rebels who will take an Alowite prisoner to the fourth floor of a building and throw him out the window. The rebels will then go downstairs and check to see if the prisoner is still alive, and if he is, they will take him back to the fourth floor and throw him out again. And again. And again. Until he dies. The Syrian guy explained that beheading alleviates the suffering of the enemy. Saad mourned the loss of humanity in this man’s perspective. How he could rationalize one mode of execution over another. He wished that we could say that all modes of execution are inhuman. He wondered at how evil people can be, even in their thoughts, about war.
4. When both sides are evil, there is no hope. This needs no explanation. Saad wondered how God could allow any of these people to continue in their evil, why God doesn’t just wipe them all out. He said they don’t deserve to live. I feel for Saad. He’s a descendant of victims of mass genocide. And nobody knows about it. He’s a man without a home country. And nobody knows about it. It doesn’t justify his position, wishing that God would just wipe out the Assad regime and the rebels, but it certainly explains it. I pray that Saad can find mercy in his heart, can pray for his enemies out of love for them in the way of Jesus. I don’t know if he can.
I don’t have a conclusion except to implore you get educated about the conflict here and think about what my friend Michael Danner wrote about today on the myth of redemptive violence here. How would Jesus want us to respond in this situation? I don’t know. But I know its way more complicated than simply going to war (which isn’t simple, but its simplistic).