The Armenians are descendants of a people who have existed continuously in Transcaucasia since about the sixth century B.C. Although a small number of Armenians have been settled in the country for several generations, the bulk of those in Syria arrived in successive waves as refugees from Turkey between 1925 and 1945.
Like Armenians throughout the Middle East, Armenians in Syria are city or town dwellers. About 150,000 Armenians lived in Syria in the mid-1980s. Roughly 75 percent live in Aleppo, where they are a large and commercially important element, and fewer than 20 percent live in the Hayy al Arman (Quarter of the Armenians), a new section of Damascus. The remainder are scattered in cities and towns throughout the country, especially in the larger towns along the northern border of the Jazirah. Most Armenians belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church, but about 20,000 belong to the Armenian Catholic Church.
The Armenian language, which has its own alphabet, belongs to the Indo-European family at the same level as such other subfamilies as the Slavic and Italic languages. There is a classical form with an old, highly developed Christian literature, but modern Armenian differs essentially from the older form.
The Armenians work chiefly in trade, the professions, small industry, or crafts; a few are found in government service. In Aleppo, where some families have been traders for generations, their economic position is strong. Many of the technical and skilled workers of Damascus and Aleppo are Armenian; in the smaller towns they are generally small traders or craftsmen.
Armenians are the largest unassimilated group in Syria. They retain many of their own customs, maintain their own schools, and read newspapers in their own language. Some leaders adamantly oppose assimilation and stress the maintenance of Armenian identity. As Arab nationalism and socialism have become more important in Syrian political life, Armenians have found themselves under some pressure and have felt increasingly alienated. As a result, they were reported in the 1960s and early 1970s to have emigrated in large numbers.
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