Celebrating Christmas in liberated Aleppo

And the significance of Syrian Armenians long history with the Syrian Army

Liberated Aleppo Christians
Liberated Aleppo Christians, Christmas trees in an Aleppo square

Russian and Egyptian sappers have cleared Aleppo’s neighborhoods of mines and other explosive devices placed by the US-backed Free Syrian Army and al-Qaeda in Syria (aka al-Nusra). Now the people of Aleppo are planting trees in the center dividers of their roads and have begun the first steps of organizing to rebuild Aleppo and make it beautiful again.

Those whose neighborhoods were completely destroyed by the terrorist groups are staying in specially built housing centers and are being provided with hot meals. As soon as possible, they will return to their neighborhoods.

The Syrian Armed Forces and all able-bodied men and women have already begun the rebuilding phase.

There are various Christian denominations in Syria: Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Nestorian, Armenian, Protestant, Latin Catholic, Maronite, Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics.

Members from each of these Christian minority groups have joined the Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces, and have been fighting the Islamist opposition since the beginning of the attempted Islamist takeover in 2011.

A special mention must be made about Aleppo’s Armenian population. Armenian Christians have a long history in Aleppo, dating back to the 11th Century A.D. when the Turks captured Byzantine-controlled Armenia and created a diaspora of Armenians from their ancestral homeland.

Another large diaspora to Syria followed the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which hundreds of thousands of Armenians fled to Syria and settled into the Syrian provinces of Aleppo, al-Hasakeh, al-Raqqa, Latakia, and Homs.

The largest community of Armenians in the entire Middle East resides in the city of Aleppo.

Even though the founding of present day Armenia occurred in 1918, Syria’s Armenians chose to stay in Syria.

Syrian Armenians have a long history in the Syrian Army. Tens of thousands of Armenians have served on the frontlines of every 20th Century Syrian war. This fact is yet another reason why you cannot call the Syrian Army a “Regime Army” or “government forces”. The Syrian Army is represented by all Syrians and does not consist of only one sect, or one religion, or one political party. It is an army of the people and representative of all.

Starting from the beginning of the current conflict in 2011, the Syrian Armenian community has served on the frontlines of every single major battle against the Islamist Opposition forces.

When Aleppo came under attack by the US-backed Islamist group “Free Syrian Army” in the summer of 2012, the Syrian Armenians joined the Syrian Army in even larger numbers to help protect the city of Aleppo.

Without the Syrian Armenians, the Islamists would have destroyed the historical districts of Aleppo.

In early 2014, the Syrian Army formed a civilian-led army, the National Defense Forces (NDF), to protect civilian areas when the Syrian Army was absent. The Syrian Army trains and arms the NDF.

Most of the time the Syrian Army and the NDF fight in tandem, but there were times, due to the enormous influx of foreign fighters in 2013 and 2014, who were creating new battlefronts almost daily, the Syrian Army was spread very thin. They could not be everywhere at all times.

The Syrian Army would remain at the frontlines and members of the NDF were allowed, if they chose, to defend their own regions or cities from invasions.

As soon as the NDF was created, the NDF was flooded with many thousands of recruits throughout Syria, from all factions of society and from all religions.

After al-Qaeda in Syria (aka al-Nusra), the US-backed “Free Syrian Army” and Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham’s horrific attack on the town of Kassab, the NDF received an enormous gain of over 17,000 more Syrian Armenian volunteers from the city of Aleppo to go defend the town of Kassab.

The Battle for Kassab

With the help of the NDF volunteers from Aleppo, the Syrian Army was able to recapture the town of Kassab in late 2014. Syrian Armenian NDF volunteers thought of the battle for Kassab as an absolute necessity against the Islamist terrorists who were causing another diaspora.

Defending Aleppo

Together with the Palestinians of Nayrab Refugee Camp, the al-Ba’ath Brigades, the National Defense Forces, and the Syrian Army, the Syrian Armenians worked inside Aleppo City to defend the provincial capital from a takeover by Islamist groups who wanted to enforce Islamic Law on the Syrian people.

In June of 2015, the newly formed Islamic Coalition of al-Qaeda groups, called “Ansar al-Halab”, launched a large-scale offensive in west and north Aleppo, capturing territory in the al-Rashideen neighborhood after intense fighting with the Syrian Army that lasted many weeks.

Thanks to the Syrian Armenian NDF soldiers, the Islamists were unable to advance at the al-Khalidiyah, al-Azizah, and Suleimaniyeh neighborhoods. The Syrian Armenian NDF soldiers absolutely refused to lose even an inch of ground to the Islamist forces.

The Syrian Armenians of Aleppo named the Islamist fighters the “Ottoman terrorists”, and this encouraged their people to defend Aleppo from the same forces that conducted the massive genocide of their people in 1915.

Originally posted at CheriBerens

Cheri Berens lives in Egypt working as a researcher for the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. She experienced Egypt’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions and witnessed the Muslim Brotherhood takeover and violence that followed.