Kessab Attacked: Armenian Population Flees as Town Is Attacked by Rebels

KESSAB (Combined Sources) — Asbarez newspaper reported that the Armenian-populated town of Kessab and its surrounding villages were the targets of three days of brutal cross-border attacks from Turkey by al Qaeda-affiliated bands. The attacks have cost 80 lives and forced the civilian population of the area to flee to neighboring hills.

Some 670 Armenian families, the majority of the population of Kessab, were evacuated by the local Armenian community leadership to safer areas in neighboring Basit and Latakia.

One initial report suggested that government forces  have  repelled the rebels, butlater the report was disputed.

The Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II was in contact with Catholicos Aram I of the See of the Great House of Cilicia regarding the state of the Armenians in Syria and asked for the shelling and murders to stop.

Social Democrat Hunchakian Party Chairman Narek Galstyan said in a facebook post that the rebels are moving toward Latakia, where many Armenians have found refuge.

In a written statement, the Armenian National Committee-International (ANC-I) condemned the attacks and Turkey’s active role in aiding and abetting extremist groups in their targeted attacks against the Christian and minority populations in Syria. “For months, we have warned the international community of the imminent threat posed by extremist foreign fighters against the Christian minority population in Syria,” noted the ANC-I statement. “These vicious and unprompted attacks against the Armenian-populated town and villages of Kessab are the latest examples of this violence, actively encouraged by neighboring Turkey.”

The ANC-I called on all states with any influence in the Syrian conflict to use all available means to stop these attacks against the peaceful civilian population of Kessab, to allow them to return to their homes in safety and security. “In the last one hundred years, this is the third time that the Armenians are being forced to leave Kessab and in all three cases, Turkey is the aggressor or on the side of the aggressors,” the organization charged.

According to news reports, the armed incursion began earlier on Friday, with rebels associated with Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham crossing the Turkish border and attacking the Armenian civilian population of Kessab. Snipers targeted the civilian population and launched mortar attacks on the town and the surrounding villages. According to eyewitness accounts, the attackers crossed the Turkish border with Syria openly passing through Turkish military barracks. According to Turkish media reports, the attackers carried their injured back to Turkey for treatment.

A few families with relations too elderly to move were either unable to leave or chose to stay in their homes in Kessab. The following day, March 22, Syrian troops reportedly launched a counteroffensive in an attempt to regain the border crossing point. However, on Sunday, March 23, the extremist groups once again entered the town of Kessab, took the remaining Armenian families hostage, desecrated the town’s three Armenian churches, pillaging local residences and occupying the town and surrounding villages, reported

The Armenian embassy in Syria is developing a plan of swift actions to help protect the ethnic Armenian population of the town, Armenian President Serge Sargisian said during his visit to The Hague this week for the Nuclear Security Summit.

Sargisian’s press office said the president expressed his deep concern over the events around Kessab and spoke about previous attacks by Turkish troops on Kessab in 1909 and 1915. He said the current third attempt of Turkish authorities to make Armenians leave the area is a serious challenge to 21st century’s mechanisms to protect national minorities.

“I think that everyone should realize that the parallels that come to one’s mind should be sobering to all the sides,” he said.

Sargisian thanked the Syrian government for its steps taken in this difficult time to protect the Armenians of Kessab.

“I have already instructed the diplomatic missions of the Republic of Armenia to the UN in New York and Geneva offices to ask corresponding international agencies dealing with human rights and minority issues to address the issue of security of Armenians in Kessab and guarantee their safe return to their homes ,”  said Sargisian.

The president also discussed this issue with the Catholicos of Cilicia Aram I.

Touching upon the historic events, Sargisian recalled another date in history — the year 1915.  The Armenians of Kessab were deported in two directions, to Deir ez-Zor and Jordan. Thousands of them died, most of them in the deserts of Deir ez-Zor.

“Today’s deportation of Kessab Armenians — the third in history — is a most serious challenge to the mechanisms of the 21st century targeted at the protection of national minorities. I think everyone should realize that these parallels should be sobering for all parties,” Sarigisian said.

(Reports from Public Radio of Armenia, ArmeniaNow, Arka and Asbarez were used to compile this story.)