Armenian families flee Syrian town after al Qaeda affiliate attack (updated)

Armenian families flee Syrian town after al Qaeda affiliate attack (updated)

PanARMENIAN.Net - The Armenian populated villages of Kessab, Syria were the target of three days of brutal cross-border attacks from Turkey by al-Qaeda affiliated armed bands.

In a written statement, the Armenian National Committee—International, 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,” the ANC-I statement said. “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. We call upon 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.”

News reports say the armed incursion began on Friday, March 21, at 5:45 am., 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. The attackers immediately seized two guard posts overlooking Kessab, including a strategic hill known as Observatory 45 and later took over the border crossing point with Turkey. Snipers targeted the civilian population and launched mortar attacks on the town and the surrounding villages, according to the Armenian Weekly.

Eyewitnesses say that 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 in the town of Yayladagi.

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. Ten to fifteen families with relations too elderly to move were either unable to leave or chose to stay in their homes.

“Many Armenian families are staying with relatives and friends, while others have sought refuge in the Armenian Church and the church’s hall,” said Syrian Armenian community activist Nerses Sarkissian during a phone interview with Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian.

“The Aleppo Armenian Prelacy as well as the Red Crescent are providing relief and assistance to these families in Latakia,” Sarkissian added.

On Saturday, March 22, Syrian troops launched a counteroffensive in an attempt to regain the border crossing point, eye-witnesses and state media reported. 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.

The issue of the displaced Armenian families is in the focus of the Foreign Ministry agenda, spokesman Tigran Balayan said. “At present, the majority of the Kessab Armenians are in Latakia and we’re trying to find ways to extend assistance.” He further noted that the ministry has developed special visa and citizenship regulations for Syrian Armenians, Civilnet reported.

Accoridng to Tert.am, as the armed tensions in Kessab continue, the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon met with Catholicos Aram I of the Holy House of Cilicia to convey to him President Bashar al-Assad’s assurances for re-establishing peace in the region.

At the meeting which lasted more than an hour, Ali Abdel Karim Ali said they knew Turkey had not only encouraged the rebels’ entry into the town but also given weapons to them to facilitate their advance.

The diplomat said the Syrian army managed to repel the attackers despite the losses suffered. He told the Catholicos that both the Syrian president and state have a deep respect for the Armenian people whom they feel committed to protect as faithful citizens of the country.

He said Kesab is a strategically important town for the Syrian Army, adding that the local Armenians have been temporarily moved to Latakia for security reasons.

The cathollicos noted for his part that Kesab has a symbolic significance for the Armenian people. He later sent a delegation of clergyman to Latakia.

On Sunday, March 23 Hakob Bagratuni, a member of the Armenian Parliamentary Bloc in the Lebanese Parliament, conveyed to the Aram I - on behalf of the ambassador - the Syrian leader’s message expressing his commitment to re-establish peace in Kessab and his desire to meet with the catholicos.

The Arab Armenian International Law Assembly denounced the attack by armed terrorist groups, backed by Erdogan’s government, on Kasab area in Lattakia northern countryside, SANA reported.

The Assembly said in a statement that it vehemently condemns the attack by mercenary terrorists, who are directly backed by Erdogan’s government “which triggered a displacement of 6, 800 Syrian citizens, most of them Armenians, who were slaughtered, had their properties looted and their worshipping places desecrated.”

The crimes of genocide, displacement and pillage that the Ottomans once practiced are now regenerated by Erdogan and his clique, the statement said.

Located in the northwestern corner of Syria, near the border with Turkey, Kessab had, until very recently evaded major battles in the Syrian conflict. The local Armenian population had increased in recently years with the city serving as safe-haven for those fleeing from the war-torn cities of Yacubiye, Rakka and Aleppo.

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