Athens reaches out to Syria through Greek Orthodox group

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Oct 20, 2020

The appointment this spring of Greece’s former Syrian ambassador because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ new particular envoy for Syria is being considered as an indication of Greece’s renewed geopolitical curiosity in its southern neighborhood and of its need to ascertain a larger position in a rustic to which it has deep historic ties. 

According to Ioannis Grigoriadis, head of the Turkey Program on the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens, the choice is a part of a wider try to refocus on the area caused by the escalation of tensions between Greece and Turkey. 

Speaking with Al-Monitor, Grigoriadis stated, “The Libyan-Turkish maritime agreement prompted a reaction leading to a complete reconsideration of Greek policy in the Middle East. As Greece’s economy continues to recover post-COVID-19, the Levant will be a new area of regional ambition for Greece.” 

As Greece seems for international locations the place it may possibly enhance its footprint whereas pressuring Turkey, Syria is a logical selection. Dimitrios Katsoudas, Greece’s secretary basic for European affairs from 2007-2009 and a earlier coverage adviser who has held numerous positions throughout the nation’s present ruling New Democracy Party, informed Al-Monitor, “Greece has a strong will to participate both in Syria’s permanent pacification and to its reconstruction,” including, “Greece, for historic, geopolitical and economic reasons, needs to hold a strong position in Syria, and our allies need to understand this.” 

Damascus businessman Charles Catinis is a living instance of the historic ties between Greece and Syria and has been following the rapprochement between the 2 international locations with a way of hope. In a cellphone interview, he informed Al-Monitor, “Greece was the last European country to close its embassy when the war started. Now when we need to renew our passports or obtain documents, we must travel to Lebanon to visit the Greek Consulate in Beirut.” 

Catinis is a 3rd technology Greek nationwide residing in Syria. He is certainly one of about 400 individuals left living in Damascus whose households moved there within the 19th century when town and far of Greece have been nonetheless part of the Ottoman Empire. 

“I was born in Damascus, as was my father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Our Greek citizenship was passed along from father to son,” he informed Al-Monitor. 

He remembers a time when Greece and Syria loved good relations, helped by the presence of the Greek group. “We had a great relationship between Greece and Syria before the war and part of that was because of the shared culture and religion,” he elaborated. “We celebrated Oxi Day (the Greek national holiday marking the country’s refusal to surrender to Axis forces in WWII) and Greek Independence Day along with the church holidays.”

Today, Arabic-speaking Greek nationals like Catinis make up a tiny minority and are clustered primarily in Damascus and Tartus. However, Syria is home to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, the most important Arab Christian church within the Middle East. 

Before the struggle, an estimated 10% of Syria’s inhabitants was Christian, with Greek Orthodox being the most important denomination. Because of the battle and widespread flight of Syria’s Christians it’s exhausting to estimate their numbers at present, however some figures place them under half of pre-war ranges. 

Still, they’re a large and distinguished minority that did properly as a group earlier than the struggle. Russian intervention to save lots of the federal government of President Bashar al-Assad has been solid, partially, as a move to defend Orthodox Christians in Syria and people who remained have usually stood by the regime as a guarantor of minority rights and stability. 

In this gentle, Katsoudas informed Al-Monitor, “Greece has eventually come to recognize that the Assad regime has practically been the only one to protect the Christians. This is why now that the regime is restabilized in Syria, Greece tries to formulate a more concrete policy for the protection of Syrian Christians.” 

After living by years of their nation’s worldwide isolation, members of Syria’s Greek Orthodox minority who spoke with Al-Monitor welcomed the information of Greece’s diplomatic return. Basilios, a 22-year-old scholar of English literature at present living in Homs who requested Al-Monitor to not use his full identify out of safety considerations, said, “Greece didn’t want to leave Syria. It was forced by NATO and the European Union. Greece is our good neighbor.” 

Grigoriadis informed Al-Monitor that Greece’s reengagement with Syria will want sensible follow-through, stating, “What is important now is if Greece goes on to invest diplomatic and economic resources in order to claim a stronger position in the Levant, and to some degree to reclaim the Greek historic legacy in the region.” 

That legacy could show to be an asset as Greece seeks inroads within the nation whereas navigating the considerations of US and EU allies who proceed to impose sanctions geared toward marginalizing the regime. If Greece can discover a solution to assuage these calls for it might be able to carve out a task for itself as a mediator between the EU and Damascus whereas positioning itself to participate within the eventual reconstruction of the nation and leverage its place in opposition to Turkey. 

A primary start line could possibly be extra help to the Orthodox group. 

Catinis says that for the reason that closure of the embassy in July 2012, the Greek Club of Damascus has lacked a Greek trainer, which was beforehand supplied by Greece. “The teacher and opening the embassy to allow Greek nationals to do their paperwork here in Syria are the two most important things Greece can do.” 

Farah, a 31-year-old major college trainer living in Homs who requested Al-Monitor to not use her actual identify out of safety considerations, stated she is uncertain any authorities will be capable of do a lot to assist the Syrian individuals, however she may see some profit from the renewal of Greek curiosity in her nation if it instills the Orthodox church with the goal of serving to Greek Orthodox Syrians keep in Syria as a substitute of emigrating. 

She informed Al-Monitor, “Greek Orthodox look to Greece like they look into a dream. But I want the church to teach the Orthodox that Syria is their country too.”