On 17 January 2014, Dr. Pieter Omtzigt, the Dutch MP and Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has requested all countries – in writing – to support an equal representation of Syrians by including the Christians during the Syria peace talks which is scheduled to take place in Montreux, Switzerland on Wednesday, 22 January. In his letter, endorsed by the WCA, Mr. Omtzigt describes an historic event which negatively affected the Aramean people of Turkey by referring to the peace conference in Lausanne of 1922 where the native Arameans (Syriacs) were not recognized as an indigenous ethno-religious people and therefore have not been able, until today, to benefit from the protection the treaty offers.
On January 22 the peace conference on Syria will start in Montreux. Hopefully this will be the start of a peace process with a ceasefire and peace treaty between the different groups and their foreign supporters.
The discussion seems to focus on which combatant parties will take part in the peace process and whether Iran is allowed to take part in the conference. That is only part of the question. Many religious and other minorities have not taken up arms as a group and their suffering is great.
A historical parallel is in place here: the 1922 peace conference in Lausanne (indeed on the same lake as Montreux), led to the establishment of the modern Turkish state. The treaty failed to mention which minorities were protected. The Turkish authorities have since stated that for instance the Syriac community did not have protection under the treaty. The community, which had suffered greatly under the 1915 genocide, still numbered in the 100.000s. Over the years that followed, their numbers rapidly fell as many emigrated or fled their country in the subsequent years. Today, more Syriac people live in the Dutch region Twente than in the whole South East of Turkey.
The Christian community and other minority communities, like the Druze, should have a clear voice at the peace conference and an explicit mention in any treaty that is signed. That should include a guarantee for all refugees to return to their home country. If not, we shall see the permanent establishment of new refugee cities in the Middle East. It seems very unlikely that Arab countries are willing to admit them as citizens, so in the long term there may well be a migration flow to the west.
As our countries participate in the preparation and in the peace conference, I urge you to ask your government to take these points in account. May be you can formally table questions or ask your government informally.
I am in close contact with the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (which represents a number of the Christian churches there) and please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Pieter Omtzigt and Johny Messo