Potential air strikes in Syria cause concern for Syrian-Armenians in Glendale

While President Barack Obama announced Friday that any military action responding to chemical attacks in Syria would be limited in scope, leaders in the Syrian-Armenian community in Glendale said they oppose any armed response from the United States.

"I don't want my country to be that merchant of destruction," said Zaven Khanjian, an Aleppo native and Glendale real estate agent who leads the nonprofit Syrian Armenian Relief Fund. "Whatever [the military action] is, it will bring death and destruction."

As the conflict between rebels and the sitting government led by Syrian President Bashar Assad has worsened over the past two years, locals' fears for their friends and family in Syria — especially those in the large city of Aleppo, which has been one of the hardest hit by violence — have ballooned.

They hear stories almost daily of kidnappings, stray bullets striking innocents, panic and economic hardship in historically Armenian neighborhoods in Aleppo.

During a televised announcement Friday, Obama said he has not made a final decision, but he assured Americans he is against a long-term response.

"We're not considering any open-ended commitment. We're not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach," he said.

The president's announcement comes after the U.S. intelligence community released a report Friday detailing a chemical weapons attack, which they believed was carried out by the Syrian government using a nerve agent.

Despite Obama's assurance, the Armenian community in Syria is preparing for an imminent attack and war, said Lena Bozoyan, chairwoman of the Armenian Relief Society of Western USA's executive board.

Her organization, which has given financial aid to Syrian-Armenian charities during the conflict, believes "the whole Armenian community worldwide [is] very wary and concerned of military intervention that would only add to the suffering of all people on both sides and would not be a solution to the conflict in Syria and could threaten and destabilize the whole region."

The British Parliament voted on Thursday against taking military action in Syria, while French President Francois Hollande supported air strikes.

The intelligence community has "a body of information, including past Syrian practice, that leads us to conclude that regime officials were witting of and directed the attack on Aug. 21" that killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, in Damascus, according to the report.

But Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier, an English-language Armenian newspaper published in Glendale, was skeptical of the report and urged Obama to wait for approval from the United Nations and Congress before commanding any military action, even a narrow one.

"Everyone, no matter what they think on all sides should relax," said the Aleppo native, adding that Assad may be dictator who "rules with an iron fist," but rebel fighters aren't virtuous either.

Generally, Armenians living in Syria tend to be pro-Assad as the Christian community flourished during his regime, but Glendale residents connected to the battle-damaged country have said their concerns are humanitarian, not political.

One Aleppo native who lives in Glendale said he would like to see the creation of a safe road for those who want to flee. Currently, travelers risk being shot at as they move throughout Aleppo.

"I'm worried about my parents and my family," said the man, who spoke anonymously because he feared speaking to the media could hurt his Syrian connections.



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