Focus on Kesab: Concerns linger over Turkey’s role in attacks on Armenian-populated town in Syria

Focus on Kesab: Concerns linger over Turkey’s role in attacks on Armenian-populated town in Syria


Despite criticism heard from various circles in Armenia that the government is silent on the tragedy of Kesab in Syria where ethnic Armenians have been abandoning their homes under the threat of attacks by Islamic militants, President Serzh Sargsyan raised the issue from The Hague, where he is attending a two-day nuclear security summit.

Still, Sargsyan stopped short of condemning Turkey over the Kesab situation.

The Armenian population of Kesab had to be evacuated to the neighboring coastal province of Latakia late last week after Islamic militants penetrated from Turkey and seized the town after clashes with Syrian government troops. On Sunday, Turkey shot down a Syrian jet, insisting that it had violated its airspace. Syria, however, denies any violation of Turkish airspace by its warplane, effectively accusing Turkey of interfering in the clashes between Syrian government troops and armed rebels. Damascus has qualified Ankara’s actions as unprecedented aggression.

During the past three years of the Syrian war Kesab largely remained peaceful. There are still no reports about casualties among Armenians in the town. According to the data of Armenian clergy sent to the place by Aram I, the Lebanon-based Catholicos of the Great House Cilicia, 2,000 people have left Kesab. Judging by what different Syrian Armenians write on online social networks, the majority of the population was able to find accommodation at their relatives’ in Latakia, about 250 people were accommodated in the local Armenian church and school. Different community charities provide assistance to them.

A video has appeared on Youtube showing an Islamic militant going around the Armenian church and saying that they will not harm the hostages, but will provide defense to civilians. The church appears undamaged in this video.

In his statement President Sargsyan also made references to historical events, noting that this is the third time that Kesab Armenians have been displaced – the first two deportations happened in 1909 and 1915 and were committed by the Turks. The second time it was as part of the Armenian Genocide.

“The third displacement of Kesab Armenians today is a serious challenge to the 21st-century mechanisms of defending ethnic minorities. I think that everyone should realize that these parallels should be sobering for all sides,” the Armenian president stressed, at the same time thanking the Syrian authorities “for the steps they have been taking in this difficult moment for defending the Armenians of Kesab.”

Sargsyan also gave assurances that the Armenian embassy in Syria is working on a program of necessary measures to fully assist the Armenians of Kesab.

Seven members of the Armenian parliament also voiced their concern over the displacement of Armenians from Kesab – five of the lawmakers are from the ruling Republican Party’s faction, one is Edmon Marukyan, who is not affiliated with any faction, and one is opposition Heritage faction member Tevan Poghosyan. They called upon the Syrian and Turkish authorities to conduct an impartial investigation into the events.

“And from the international community we demand an unequivocal assessment of this heinous cases of human rights violations, by sending UN observers to the Armenian-populated territories of Kesab to document the mass human rights violations on the spot,” said the Armenian MPs.

On Wednesday a protest will take place in front of the UN office and the NATO information center in Yerevan. Participants of the coming action accuse Turkey of assisting the militants in seizing Kesab and surrounding villages. They are going to submit a letter to the NATO and UN offices in Yerevan demanding that they warn “their ally” against supporting terrorist activities and terrorist operations intended against Armenians.