03, 2010

Address by President Serzh Sargsyan at the Damascus University

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Ladies and Gentlemen;
Dear Friends,

It is my distinct honor and privilege to speak here – at the oldest educational institution of Syria, the University of Damascus. Syria holds a special place in the history of the Armenian people. This is also a country which is very close to us and by “close” I mean not only the geographical proximity but our time-honored friendship, common fate, national character, and many-many other connections as well.

Today, I would like to take this opportunity to speak about the friendship of the Armenian and Syrian peoples, our relations, our past and our promising future.

Historical Armenia had been part of and the Armenians were living and working in the region which today is traditionally defined as Middle East.

We were living in a locale, which epitomizes the “crossroad of civilizations”, and maintained daily contacts, trade and cultural interaction with the countries and peoples of the Fertile Crescent. For the Western nations, the Armenians were the best translators and interpreters of the Islamic, Arabic, and Iranian culture, while for the peoples of the East we were a unique gateway to the Caucasus and up to the North and were viewed as the representatives of the Western civilization. Even on the different stages of history, when Armenian statehood seized to exist under the enraged blows of the great empires, that connecting role had never been interrupted and continued to be part of the Armenian collective identity and self-consciousness.
Within this context, Syria played a special and crucial role for the Armenians. This country was that very bridge which connected us to the Islamic and Arab world, while parallels in the destinies of our two peoples brought us even closer together.
Cases in point speak for themselves. There are two realities which had fundamental influence over the formation of the Armenian nation and Armenian identity, which are source of pride for any Armenian wherever he or she might be. The first of them is the fact that the Armenians were the first nation to adopt Christianity as state religion, and the second is the Armenian culture and its cornerstone – the Armenian language and alphabet. In both cases the “Syrian footprint” is pretty noticeable.
Christianity entered Armenia via Syria; Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew came to Armenia from Syria in 1st century AD to preach Christian values and to become martyrs, laying the foundation on which the Temple of the Armenian Church would be erected.
In IV-V centuries many Armenian young men were studying in towns of Assyria, and among them one of the greatest Armenians – Mesrop Mashtots, who, according to one of the existing versions, created the phenomenon called the Armenian alphabet in the Syrian town of Edessa.
The Armenians and the Syrians had been the peoples living in this region for centuries, who earned each other’s as well as the other nations’ affection and respect not through the belligerent spirit but through the peace-loving and diligent nature. Cumulative knowledge, experience, and cultural values of the two nations, accumulated during centuries, made an invaluable contribution to the development of the world civilization.
While practicing different religions, our peoples in their faith first of all honor spiritual, all-human values, and mutual respect. Spiritual values, which hold special place in the history of mankind, are born by that very faith. In the Museum of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan – Matenadaran – next to the ancient Armenian manuscripts there are numerous manuscripts on different subjects in the Arabic, Aramaic, Assyrian, and other languages, which originated from Syria and now represent an important part of the Arab and world heritage.

Medieval Armenian-Arab literary and scientific ties can be spoken about for hours. An Armenian physician Amirdovlat Amasiatsi based his studies on the achievements of the Arab medicine and enriched it with his own medical research. In X century, Grigor Magistros studied metric prosody of Al-Mutanabbi , and in XIII century Arakel Anetsi translated One Thousand and One Nights fairy tales. These literary pearls would become available for the West only centuries later.

Trade was flourishing as well. In XV-XVII centuries, when Aleppo was the greatest hub of the Middle East, the Armenian khojas brought their considerable contribution to the trade relations with Venice, Amsterdam, and Marseille.

The Armenians actively participated in the Arab Renaissance in the XIX century –
al-Nahda, as well as in the national liberation movement of the XX century, especially in Syria. All this proves a comprehensive nature of the Armenian-Syrian contacts and consideration for each other’s destiny.

Dear Friends,

The twentieth century brought fateful changes into the life of the Armenian nation. The major part of our historical motherland was taken away, the nation was subjected to genocide, and the survivors spread all over the world.

Today, on the eve of the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I would like to take this opportunity and on behalf of the Armenian people once again express our gratitude to our Arab brothers, dwellers of the Syrian villages and towns, who under the mortal threat of persecution didn’t abide with the crimes against humanity and harbored the Armenian refugees who survived vicious crimes of the Ottoman government.

I am confident, that it was faith and sense of duty toward the humankind that moved the brotherly Syrian people to lend a hand to our nation at the direst moment of our history, when hundred of thousands of the Armenians, expelled from their historical birthplace, were driven into the deserts of Deir Zor. The Armenian people will never forget it.

How can we forget Muhammed Shafeh Abu Risha, the kaymakam of Maara, father of the great Syrian poet Umar Abu Risha, who was banished by the Ottoman authorities for helping the Armenian deportees. How can we forget the governor of Deir Zor Ali Suad, who not only refused to execute the order on deporting the Armenians but also gave refuge to the Armenian children. How can we forget the Arab officers of the Ottoman army, who saved lives of many Armenians – Jemil Al-Qennei, or Abdul-Ghani Judei, who instead of sending the convoys of the Armenian deportees into Deir Zor was transferring them to Selimiye and who saved from the claws of death the classic of the Armenian literature Ervand Otian. These and many-many other names are engraved with golden letters of gratitude in the hearts of the Armenian people.

Hundred thousands of the Armenians, who found refuge in Syria and started a new life here, built churches and cultural centers, bringing their input to the development of the multiethnic civilization of Syria. They showed their gratitude to the people of Syria by their devotion and dedicated work. Today, when the Armenians enjoy equal rights with the other citizens of the country, I would like to once again express my gratitude to the leadership of Syria for the warm attitude and care toward the Armenians. Thank you.

Dear Friends,
After the Genocide the Armenians were left with a fraction of their historical motherland - a small territory in the Caucasus region, and even that was ravished and tattered. Subsequent geopolitical developments, the Gold War only aggravated the situation, cutting us away from our geographical cradle and depriving us of natural contacts with our friends.

Only very limited contacts were allowed during the Soviet times: visits of the relatives and student exchanges opened a narrow window. But in 1970-80s historic visits of the President of Syria Hafez al-Asad and the Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi to Soviet Armenia reinstated the sense of being a “crossroad of civilizations”.

A historic statement made by the late President Hafez Al-Asad at the monument dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide that “Syria is the Armenians’ second motherland” was shocking. The Armenians understood that what they for decades considered to be only their pain was remembered and shared by their friends. And be assured that such acts by the world leaders are not to be erased from the memory of the nations.

After Armenia regained independence, the Middle East gates were opened once again. In the very first months of independence, we opened embassies in Damascus, Cairo, and Tehran. The Armenian-Syrian cooperation received a strong boost, which proved that the two nations were genuinely interested in each other and were ready to carry on with all good traditions that date back centuries.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, I am here in the ancient capital of brotherly Syria at the invitation of the esteemed President, Doctor Bashar Al-Asad. We enjoy excellent friendly relations and complete understanding. This is our second meeting on the Presidential level in the last nine months. Frequent visits are quite appropriate between the leaders of friendly nations.

During last 18 years, Armenia and Syria signed dozens of interstate treaties, agreements, memorandums of understanding, and action plans regulating our cooperation. Today, there is no area that is not covered by a document reaffirming the readiness of the two sides to cooperate and interact. Almost ten documents encompassing different areas of cooperation will be signed in the framework of this visit.

Development of joint positions on political issues, strengthening of the economic relations, experience sharing in the area of agriculture, exchanges in the areas of information, education and culture – this is the incomplete list of cooperation between our two governments. And the list is being augmented daily, encompassing new areas and new programs.

Extensive cooperation such as this between our two countries is facilitated by the session of the intergovernmental commissions held regularly, which is an efficient format for resolving issues and coordinating activities. On that level, the Armenian and Syrian experts from almost any area are provided with the opportunity to discuss multiple issues of mutual interest, familiarize with each other, which, I believe, is also very important.

For the last fifteen years Syrian students have been arriving to Armenia to study in various educational institutions. On the other hand, there are Armenian students – undergraduates and postgraduates, in the Syrian institutions, including this respected establishment. This fact testifies not only to the cooperation of our two countries but also to the mutual trust since these young people hold in their hands the future of our efficient cooperation. I am confident that human factor is going to be the most powerful and leading factor for the preservation and strengthening of the Armenian-Syrian friendship.

Together with our Syrian friends we are working for the establishment of the beneficial cooperation in the scientific areas of mutual interest and development of inter-university agreements on the implementation of joint scientific programs. In the framework of this visit, the representatives of our two governments have signed the agreement on the scientific and technical cooperation between Armenia and Syria, provisions of which stem from our two nations’ vital interests, since they are related to science and education – a guarantee of any nations future prosperity and advancement.

In general, Armenia is working hard to expand her cooperation with the Arab world. Our presence at the League of Arab States is conditioned by that desire.
At the same time, in the South Caucasus region Armenia continues to conduct a policy of peace and stability, which is aimed at the creation of equal opportunities for the development all countries of the region. I can state with confidence that the Syrian leadership shares our conviction that all disputes coming from the past can be solved only through peaceful means, and that the barriers of animosity and intolerance between the nations can be eliminated through a direct dialogue and cooperation. Recently, both Armenia and Syria have proved that they are ready to move in that direction.

Dear Friends,

Certainly, making predictions is an ungrateful task. I don’t like to make predictions, however in this case, I am going to break with that tradition since my predictions regarding the future of the Armenian-Syrian relations are only positive and bright. On my own behalf, I assert that I will spare no effort to keep the centuries-strong bridge of the Armenian-Syrian friendship strong and steady and state that no change, no rearrangement - regional or international, can affect our friendship and deepening cooperation of our two countries, which grow stronger by day.

Thank you.

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