PanARMENIAN.Net - On March 21, 2014, Turkish forces shelled Armenian-populated villages of Syria in violation of international laws, further opening the border for militants to seize the region. Along with the surrounding Armenian-populated villages, Kessab, a home to 2,5-3000 Armenians, is located near the Syrian-Turkish border. After Kessab was seized, militants tore off the cross from an Armenian church, replacing it with a black Islamist flag.
On June 16, the top commandment of Syrian armed forces stated that stability in Kessab and adjacent province of Latakia was restored and the extremist militants pushed out, with the terrorist attempt to form a springboard for attacks with a sea outlet at the Turkish border thwarted.
At present, houses and streets of Kessab are fully demined, with utility services operating and electricity supplies restored. According to mayor Vasken Chaparian, 250 out of 600 Armenian families who left the town are back, restoring Armenian presence in the lands of the historic Cilicia. Earlier, at the meeting with the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad promised that Kessab Armenians will return to their homes and was true to his word.
Following the Kessab tragedy, Armenians and Alawites accused the Prime Minister Erdogan-led Turkish government of triggering the attack. Armenians who fled to Latakia told the BBC Turkish Service about the attack which forced them to leave their homes.
"One morning we were woken up by loud explosions and had to flee to Kessab at once, with no clothes, money or passports. We just wanted to survive," a female resident of Kessab recalls. Some Armenians stayed in Kessab, only sending women and children to Latakia.
"We're afraid to go back, though we've been told its safe now. Still, 7 Armenians and 2 Alawites went missing, with their fates unknown. Who will give us safety guarantees? I saw an Armenian church raided, stripped of decorations, icons and burned down. All the museum artifacts were destroyed,” a priest named Gevorg reminisced.
Kessab self-defense units and Hezbollah Syrian Shiite group participated in the liberation of the town, Ora Pro Siria reported citing the patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni.
At his visit to a church of St. Michael, the patriarch saw ruined icons, broken crosses, burnt liturgy books, with the place rendered unusable for religious services. According to the patriarch, Islamists’ only goal was to prevent the church from being used as a house of prayer. The parochial school was also demolished.
Jabhat al-Nusra extremist group militants raided the Armenian Evangelical Holy Trinity Church and Missakian Cultural Center in Kessab.
Nerses Bedros XIX hopes that the majority of refugees will return to their homes in Kessab.