Would they prefer continuing their lives by maintaining the rights and status that they gained so far or going on with a new and smaller system, i.e., with a broader presence in Rojava, by demanding those rights all over again? People of Christian communities ask those questions themselves every day.
Last week, some Christian associations complained about Rojava government with a declaration that they released. In this declaration, they pointed out some problems concerning the properties of the people who abandoned the region, their community schools, compulsory military service and so on. Rojava government responded this declaration through their vice chairperson and stated that there is no law concerning those properties, they didn’t do anything to the schools and there is no compulsory military service. People still wonder why Christians released such a declaration via the associations if there is a parliament in Rojava.
First half of 20th century
Such demands of Christian associations, or Christians, and the fact they have special demands from the system they live in take us to the times when the countries in that region were established; i.e., the first half of 20th century. Because, in those times, while Syria, Lebanon and Iraq were in the process of establishment, Christian communities, especially Armenians, were trying to find a proper place for themselves in the new system by similar declarations, demands and officials meetings with the governments. In the end, those are the countries where Armenian identity, language and culture are best preserved.
Special treatment to Christian communities and giving them autonomy in certain areas is actually the continuation of the Nation System that was operating in Ottoman Empire. Scholars who study Ottoman history know very well that this system continued in Syria and Lebanon. Vangelis Kechriotis noted this fact in 2007 in his class on non-Muslims in Ottoman Empire.
Back then, in 2007, Syria regime was going through one of its strongest times in its 40-years history. In 2011, Syrian Civil War erupted and Kurdistan was on the focus from the first day. Armenians, and Christians in general, living in Rojava were on the way of becoming one of the most important elements in a state in the process of establishment.
Today, we cannot tell whether this is what they wanted or not. Would they prefer continuing their lives by maintaining the rights and status that they gained under Esad regime or going on with a new and smaller system, i.e., with a broader presence in Rojava, by demanding those rights all over again? People of Christian communities ask those questions themselves every day, but they don’t answer those questions as autonomous individuals in a democratic system; rather, they are influenced by another system, nation, community and church associations.
I talked to people from Aleppo –and for now, they don’t want to reveal their identities– and they say that Armenians and Syriacs have different demands. For Armenians, the most important demand is this: they don’t want the properties of the people who abandoned the region to be seized by Rojava government and they want the church to have the right of disposition about those properties. Someone from Qamişlo said the following: “The government wants to use the schools of Christian community; they want Kurdish children to learn Kurdish in those schools. They only demand using the school buildings and facilities. However, Christian community refuses this demand, because they are afraid that those schools will be taken away from them in the future. Looking at the debates on social media, Armenians in general feel hopeful about Rojava government and they don’t want to have a role in its decline. On the other hand, there are many people who defend the unity of Syria; the churches that signed the declaration are among them. In the end, those churches built their existence and continuity on the privileges they gained.”
Right of disposition
The ownership of the properties of the people who abandoned the region is a major matter in question. Just like in Rojava, people in Aleppo are also concerned with this issue, but they aren’t worried as much, because Syrian state gave this right to Christian communities. Most of the owners give the procuration to their relatives or acquaintances, or they give the right of disposition to the church. The churches prefer the latter. In the end, if the owners don’t return, church would have the property and in this way, the property will remain as the property of the community.
On the other hand, Rojava is a new system and these rights might be interpreted differently. For instance, they might consider the rights of the individuals as more important than the rights of the communities. They might treat everyone equally and annul the special treatments and other autonomies by emphasizing the right of representation of the communities in the parliament. Though this policy will result in using the properties of the Christian communities in the short term, this is a democratic system in the long term and it promises a system in which everyone will live more comfortably. In this regard, the demands of Christian communities might be considered reactionary. On the other hand, when we see the situation from the perspective of the communities, it is a fact that they will have fewer rights in Rojava system compared to their rights in Syria system, and choosing the hope for a brighter future for all is more risky for them.