Pieces of skull and bones found broken on farmland at a mass grave of the Armenian Genocide. Ras ul Ain, Syria.

Pieces of skull and bones found broken on farmland at a mass grave of the Armenian Genocide. Ras ul Ain, Syria.

Hafez al-Assad Reservoir, long believed by some Armenian Genocide scholars to cover a mass grave of the Genocide. Syria.

Hafez al-Assad Reservoir, long believed by some Armenian Genocide scholars to cover a mass grave of the Genocide. Syria.

Shrine dedicated to Armenian Genocide victims containing remains of victims. Armenian church at Deir Zor, Syria.

Shrine dedicated to Armenian Genocide victims containing remains of victims. Armenian church at Deir Zor, Syria.

An old photo of Armenian survivors of the genocide. Aleppo, Syria. April 2005.

An old photo of Armenian survivors of the genocide. Aleppo, Syria. April 2005.

Arab Shiekhs of tribes that took in Armenian orphans during the 1915 Armenian Genocide visit the Armenian church at Deir Zor, Syria on the 90th anniversary of the genocide. April 2005.

Arab Shiekhs of tribes that took in Armenian orphans during the 1915 Armenian Genocide visit the Armenian church at Deir Zor, Syria on the 90th anniversary of the genocide. April 2005.

Memorial for the 90th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Aleppo, Syria. April 2005.

Memorial for the 90th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Aleppo, Syria. April 2005.

Syrian-Armenian boys commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Aleppo, Syria. April 2005.

Syrian-Armenian boys commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Aleppo, Syria. April 2005.

A human leg bone was tossed by farmers in an irrigation ditch next to a mass grave of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Ras ul Ain, Syria. April 2005.

A human leg bone was tossed by farmers in an irrigation ditch next to a mass grave of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Ras ul Ain, Syria. April 2005.

A human skull at a mass grave of the 1915 Armenian Genocide near the Turkish border. Ras ul Ain, Syria. April 2005.

A human skull at a mass grave of the 1915 Armenian Genocide near the Turkish border. Ras ul Ain, Syria. April 2005.

Human remains. Mass grave site of the Armenian Genocide at Margadeh, Syria. April 2005.

Human remains. Mass grave site of the Armenian Genocide at Margadeh, Syria. April 2005.

Digging for bones at a mass grave site of the Armenian Genocide. Margadeh, Syria. April 2005.

Digging for bones at a mass grave site of the Armenian Genocide. Margadeh, Syria. April 2005.

A mass grave site of the Armenian Genocide. Syrian-Armenian and Syrian-Kurdish youth dig for bones. Margadeh, Syria. April 2005.

A mass grave site of the Armenian Genocide. Syrian-Armenian and Syrian-Kurdish youth dig for bones. Margadeh, Syria. April 2005.

A human skull at a mass grave of the 1915 Armenian Genocide near the Turkish border. Ras ul Ain, Syria. April 2005.

A human skull at a mass grave of the 1915 Armenian Genocide near the Turkish border. Ras ul Ain, Syria. April 2005.

A Kurdish Syrian woman shows a photograph of her father, an Armenian Genocide survivor. Her face is blurred to protect her identity. Syria.

A Kurdish Syrian woman shows a photograph of her father, an Armenian Genocide survivor. Her face is blurred to protect her identity. Syria.

Syria and the Mass Graves of the Genocide

by | December 16th, 2011 | 12 comments
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With a popular revolution raging and protesters facing extreme violence in Syria now, coupled with the beginning of civil war between Syria and the Free Syrian Army, I have deep concern for all Syrians subjected to brutality.

As an American-Armenian I also find myself thinking about the future of Syrian-Armenians — mostly descendents of the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide — if the regime of Bashar al-Assad falls and a new government comes to power. I’ve heard Armenians are staying on the sidelines and out of the fighting. No doubt they fear an unknown future.

I also think about the loss of Armenian and Syrian history as the physical evidence of the Armenian Genocide vanishes now and in the future.

Syria has a proud record of having helped the Armenian refugees during and after the Genocide. Syrian-Armenians have thrived and their culture has been embraced in Syria. Syrians know well what happened to the Armenians in 1915, on their land, a part of the Ottoman Empire back then.

I hope that Syria will continue to protect its Armenian population, regardless of the outcome of the current revolution, and will take steps to protect Armenian and Syrian history. Recently I learned of an unconfirmed report that Syria gave its original contemporaneous official documents on the Genocide to Turkey. If true, this is most unfortunate.

I’ve been to Syria many times, and on one of those trips, in 2005, I photographed some of the mass gravesites of the Armenian Genocide along Route 7, mostly along the old bed of the river Khabur, a tributary of the Euphrates, and a favorite massacre site of the Ottoman Turks. The graves hold the bones of women and children, as they were marched without their men — already massacred — from Turkey into the Syrian Desert.

Armenians outside Syria often forget that these mass graves still exist.

Under the current regime of President Bashar al-Assad at the time of my visit, the sites were being compromised:

Margada had a waterworks project complete with bulldozers atop it.

Shadadeh is closed because it’s an oil field.

The Ras ul Ain site on the Turkish border is occupied by farmers who crush skulls and toss bones aside every time they work the land. That land is owned by the Syrian Wakf (Islamic Trust) and is adjacent to a Muslim graveyard. Part of the site was under construction when I was there.

Another mass grave site is long thought to be under Hafez al-Assad Reservoir.

And what of the mass graves now? Is the situation the same or worse during the turmoil of this revolution?

What will become of the gravesites in the future? If Turkey makes good on a threat to create a buffer zone between Syria and Turkey, will the Ras ul Ain mass grave be under Turkish control? What then of the future of that mass grave?

Ideally the mass grave sites should be under the protection of the Armenian Church, with chapels nearby, just as the Bosnians have Potocari-Srebrenica Memorial Museum and Cemetery, even as more mass graves are discovered, and as the Jews have at Auschwitz.

Something Armenian diplomats and the Church must pursue, whoever wins the current struggle for Syria.

Here are some of the photos I took on that short journey on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Text and photographs © Alexandra Avakian/Contact Press Images 2011.

Comments

  1. If this is a site of AGBU you must take care about the armenians living in Syria…an article like this may harm our situation here you must not deal with Syria’s problem like the same way of western illusionary media. All those “With a popular revolution raging and protesters facing extreme violence in Syria now, coupled with the beginning of civil war between Syria and the Free Syrian Army” are not true…there are many armed gangs paid by foreign countries and institutions to make Syria unrest , most of the Syrian population is not involved in this so called “revolution” it is made by foreign powers, all those protest finish after half an our , only to take a video and send to the outer media, all people killed by islamic gangs. you have AgBU chapter here and you can ask them.

  2. Gourgen Mankassaryan says:

    Alexandra,
    I watched your amazing photographs where you’ve captured the scenes with its life and essence.
    I share your worry regarding the future of the mass graves of the Armenian Genocide, but not because of the unrest in Syria, but due to Turkey’s plans to invade Northern Syria. I should also advise you, Alexandra the photoJOURNALIST, not to tell things you are not sure of. Your opening lines in the article above “With a popular revolution raging and protesters facing extreme violence in Syria now, coupled with the beginning of civil war between Syria and the Free Syrian Army, I have deep concern for all Syrians subjected to brutality.” are rediculous. Also the year you visited northern Syria there was a chapel at the largest site of mass graves, which stands to this moment. It is not clear why you say “Ideally the mass grave sites should be under the protection of the Armenian Church, with chapels nearby,. . .”
    Regards,
    K M

  3. Alexandra Avakian says:

    Thank you for your comments, both of you.

    Please refer to the Arab League decisions and statements, and Al Jazeera’s coverage of the uprising and beginning of civil war if you who live in Syria need to know what is going on inside your country and do not trust the Western press to cover it. The world knows what’s happening there.

    As regards the church at Margadeh, yes there is a chapel there. It was cropped out of the photo by the editors. Yes, I already mentioned the situation on the northern border and Turkey’s threat to create a buffer zone.

    Emotional attacks on the internet that fly in the face of reality are not useful to anyone, nor do they reflect well on the writer. This “photoJOURNALIST” (your caps) is quite sure of what she reports, and when a report is unconfirmed, that is indicated clearly in the text.

    Thank you, that’s the last statement I’ll make on this.
    Regards.

  4. Gourgen Mankassaryan says:

    Alexandra,

    As a photoJURNALIST you should be there and report after seeing the facts in Syria, not watching TVs and YOUTUBEs. From your website we can see that you do business with ALJAZEERA,CNN and company. They certainly have brainwashed you. They do not have any reporters in Syria. To get the truth to the public you should either visit Syria by yourself or rely on independent sources. For your information life is normal in the largest cities Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia, … and you still dare to name it revolution/civil war. I request you and your masters to leave Syria and its people live in peace. Do your dirty business somewhere else.

    Regards,
    K M

  5. Alexandra Avakian says:

    Please refer to Arab League decisions and reports as well as Al Jazeera to learn what is happening.

  6. Lula says:

    [Modern] Islamic genocide campain has started since at least the late 1800s in Syria.

    Most notable was the Armenian Genocide, where a combination of Turkist supremacist racism and Islamic fanaticism massacred at least 1.5 Million innocent Christian Armenians.
    The 1971 massacre of 3,000,000 in Bangladesh (than part of Pakistan) was also ethnic and religious fanmaticism as the Pakistanis thought of the Bengalis nnot “pure,” and not “authentic” Muslims.

    The Arab-Islamic anti-Jewish (or/and anti-Israel) genocide campaign that began in the 1920 by infmaous Mufti all-Husseini, who served in the Turkish army when it carried the Armenian genocide. Authors believe he got the ‘genocide’ inspiration from the Turks.
    He was A. Hitler’s closes ally in the Arab world, termed the Arab Fuhrer, prteached his anti-Jewish venom in Berlin since 1939 in sermons embedding fascism and Koran messages. His racisl and religious hatred founded the conflict.’ One of the two massacres linked directly to him are the 1929 Hebron (of non-Zionist pious Jews) and the Farhur 1941 pogrom in Iraq. He personally met Hitler in 1941, though the German Nazi leader (hating the ‘Arab race,’) refused to shake his hand… but managed to cooperate against he Jews. He oversaw in 1943 the 3 Moslem SS divisions to commit crimes aginst Chsristians and Jews in The Balkans.

    Speaking about Syria. The Iran/Hezbollah Islamofascists are (the only ones) backing the Baathis-Alawite Apartheid regime in its ethnic cleansing of Sunnis.

  7. Vazken Khatchig Davidian says:

    Excellent article Alexandra. Thank you. The powerful photographs too, in their own right, bring to the fore the urgency for the preservation and documentation of these endangered sites. Thank you raising this very important issue.

  8. Elyse Semerdjian says:

    Dear Alexandra,

    Thank you for sharing your photos of these crucial sites. As a person who also visits these sights, and as an historian, I however would like to draw your attention to a contradiction in your photos and article. You express concern for “the loss of Armenian and Syrian history as the physical evidence of the Armenian Genocide vanishes now and in the future,” yet the photos document so well the destruction of these historical sights as bones are bring dug up by Armenian pilgrims. You would be doing historians and archaeologists a great favor if you discouraged tourists from digging up those bones since already the archeological site has been deeply compromised. If ever a full excavation is done at Mergadah and other places, we will never know accurate numbers of the dead because of the pilfering of bones by Armenians themselves. This undermines the very history you seek to preserve. Armenians playing with bones in the desert has become an overused cliche and is frankly a dishonorable way to treat our dead ancestors. I suggest that we think about Mergadah as a giant grave and treat it as such.

  9. Alexandra Avakian says:

    Thank you for that comment. I agree! My hope is that the Armenian Church and government will find a way to protect these sites permanently as sacred places. It should be a priority.