The local ancient community, boosted by genocide survivors, strongly rejects the idea of emigrating. After pushing out Islamic State fighters, the city lives a serious humanitarian crisis. A Christian leader says "The world cannot forget us." Armenians mediate between Kurdish and government forces. Various groups are "determined to fight" Turkish troops.
Hasakah (AsiaNews) – Armenians in the Syrian province of Hasakah will remain in the city and strongly reject any notion of leaving. This is an ancient community, enlarged by the arrival of the survivors of the genocide perpetrated by Turks against Armenians in 1915. Many Catholic Armenians from nearby Mardin, the town in southeastern city Turkey that is birthplace of the Blessed Ignatius Maloyan, found refuge and salvation here.
Like in all diaspora communities, here too Armenians were able to integrate and blend in whilst maintaining their traditions, culture and Christian faith, alongside majority Muslim among whom they have lived in harmony and tolerance.
The war that has raged in Syria for five years has brought death, destruction, misery and insecurity, but this has neither shaken nor terrorised the members of the Christian community, determined to continue living in their own homes.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Rasmik Boghigian, a leader of the local community involved in organising aid activities in the city, reports that “Hasakah is in the grips of a major humanitarian crisis."
“Recent tensions" between Kurds and Syrian government forces for control of the territory "have worsened the situation." Now 80 per cent of the area "is in the hands of the Kurds", after it was taken from Daesh (Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, IS) and some extremist Islamic rebel factions.
At night the situation is more tense, whilst during the day fighting is less intense. Residents are making huge efforts to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. There has not been any electricity for six days; there is no food and medicine.
"I appeal to the world,” said Rasmik Boghigian, “to help residents right away, sending them basic necessities. For everyone, not just for the Hasakah Armenians. We saved the world from Daesh, and now the world cannot forget us."
Meanwhile, some news on the situation of Armenian Christians in Raqqa (the capital of the so-called Caliphate in Syria) have reached Hasakah and they are troubling. The church has been closed, and "to celebrate a Mass or a sacrament" it is necessary to "pay the jizya" - the Qur’anic tax imposed on non-Muslims in Muslim lands - equal to 7 and a half grams of gold. In addition, it is forbidden to ring bells, or sing sacred hymns at Mass, and "the sound cannot go beyond the wall of the church itself."
Mgr Boutros Marayati, Armenian Catholic Bishop of Aleppo, contacted by AsiaNews declined to comment. "Times dictate caution,” the prelate warned, “a virtue that is necessary now more than ever at a time of uncertainty and rapid changes."
About 64 Armenian families are left in Hasakah, mostly elderly people. Here too the church is closed. Here Armenians are trying to maintain a position of neutrality, performing on several occasions the role of mediators between Kurdish and government forces.
The two sides are now divided into two distinct areas. Christians are allowed to move from one area to another, a valuable thing in many cases for both sides. What is more, everybody has to go to nearby city of Qamishli for medical care because its health facilities are still relatively operational.
The future of this strategic Syrian province on the border with Turkey and Iraq that is 50 per cent Arab, 40 per cent Kurdish and 10 per cent Armenian remains uncertain. The ceasefire between Kurds and the Syrian government has established a more defined framework. Now the city is almost entirely under Kurdish control, with a symbolic presence of Syrian forces (10 to 20 per cent) in the province, especially, in the old town governmental and administrative buildings are located.
In addition to being strategically important – located between Turkey and Iraq –, Hasakah is also considered Syria’s granary. It also produces cotton famous around the world, and has oil fields.
In March, the Kurds declared the area an "autonomous region" with the city as an integral part of it. They have also taken control of nearby Qamishli and consider the city "an area from where regime forces must go". Meskin Ahmed, leader of the Kurdish autonomous region, said that the government must "recognise de facto autonomous administration."
Only one thing unites all the inhabitants of Hasakah: "No to Turkey's presence here." They are all ready and willing to fight tooth and nail around this slogan.