Defence minister one of few Christians in army


GEN DAOUD Rajha, one of the high-ranking regime officials killed in yesterday’s bombing in Damascus, was a Greek Orthodox Christian and artillery specialist. He rose to be chief of staff of the Syrian army and ultimately defence minister in the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Rajha was born in Damascus in 1947. He was an artillery specialist in the military academy, from which he graduated in 1967. Rajha attained the rank of lieutenant general in 1998 and made full general in 2005, a year after being made deputy chief of staff of the Syrian army.

In 2009, he was chief of staff until last year when, in August, he was appointed defence minister, a position he held after a cabinet reshuffle last month.

As a Christian, he was something of a rarity in the Syrian military and government, which is dominated by the Alawite sect of President Assad.

He was reportedly one of those present in an attack on a meeting of Syria’s top officials on May 19th, 2012. Rebel leaders reported up to six dead of those poisoned at the meeting, including Rajha, Assef Shawkat and Hassan Turkmani.

The US and EU imposed sanctions on him in May, accusing him of responsibility for repression. In March 2012, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on him for his role in the repression of dissent in Syria. The EU also added him to its list of designated officials, saying he was responsible for the military’s involvement in the crackdown on protesters.

Also killed was Gen Hassan Turkomani, an assistant to the vice-president with the rank of minister, who was also a former defence minister. He was also said to have been made a special envoy of President Assad.

He was a Sunni Muslim, unlike many in the Syrian elite, and a long-standing senior member of the ruling Baath Party.

Accoring to the opposition, Turkomani headed the security forces’ crisis management office after protests erupted against the regime in 2011. In August, the EU imposed sanctions on him.