Today's Zaman, Turkey
April 6 2014

Attack on Syrian town of Kessab might cause headache for Turkey


The attack by Syrian opposition forces on the ethnic Armenian town of
Kessab in northern Syria could pose new problems for Ankara, amid the
upcoming anniversary of the 1915 mass killings -- which Armenians
describe as a genocide -- marked on April 24.

Kessab is located on the Mediterranean coast of northern Syria, close
to the border with Turkey. Having been populated by Armenians for
centuries, Kessab is a town with a Christian population in a country
with a majority Islamic population. As the Syrian civil war continues,
some areas of the country have been taken over by extremist and
Islamist militants.

Fighters from Syrian opposition groups -- including the
al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, designated as a terrorist group by the
US -- seized control of Kessab on March 16. Most of the Armenian
residents of the town, administratively a part of Syria's province of
Latakia, had fled before the attack began. Kessab, previously home to
over 2,000 ethnic Armenians, was reportedly left almost empty as
locals moved either to the nearby city of Latakia or fled Syria

The forced flight from Kessab has special significance for Armenians
because the town has long been an important regional Armenian hub to
which many ethnic Armenians in the wider region fled following ethnic
upheavals. Many Armenians have also drawn parallels with the forced
expulsions which took place in 1915.

The attack on Kessab -- which was known as a bastion of support for
the Assad regime -- and the flight of its residents has caused
international outrage. Armenia has accused Turkey of providing support
to the extremists. In response, the Turkish government has reiterated
that it only gives humanitarian aid, rather than military support,
which some sources claim.

Organizations representing the Armenian diaspora in the US have
claimed that Ankara is providing support to the Syrian extremists who
perpetrated that attack on Kessab. The Armenian National Committee of
America (ANCA) issued a statement on March 28 urging the US government
to take immediate action to end the `vicious onslaught on the
historically Armenian town of Kessab, Syria, which was overrun by
al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists in an attack launched from Turkey on
March 21.' The Syrian government, as well as several Armenian
websites, has claimed that the rebels entered Syria from Turkey.

The Armenian government called on the UN to protect Kessab and accused
Turkey of allowing extremists to use its soil to assault the town. The
Russian government has also called on the UN Security Council to
discuss the Kessab incident. Commenting on the attack, Taraf columnist
and Armenian activist Hayko Ba?dat said in an interview with Sunday's
Zaman that what is happening to Armenians in Syria should not be
surprising. He also claimed that long before the Kessab incident,
Turkey's Armenian community had asked the Turkish government to
protect Syrian Armenians, who are mostly survivors of the Anatolian
residents who were forced from the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Syria has for decades been home to ethnic Armenians who were forced to
flee Turkey during the tragic events in 1915. Armenians consider the
events to constitute a genocide, while Turkey maintains that there was
no systematic campaign to kill Armenians and that many Turks also died
during the chaotic disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

According to Ba?dat, the request by Turkey's Armenian community was at
first warmly accepted by Ankara, which thought it would be good
publicity, advertising positive treatment to ethnic Armenians, in the
run-up to next year's centennial of the 1915 events. However, Ba?dat
claims that the Turkish government then ignored the community's
request, passing it to the office of President Abdullah Gl, which
suggested that help be sent via the Red Cross and the İstanbul-based
Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.

`The Turkish government brushed off the issue. This was a chance to
welcome Syrian Armenians to Turkey and to help them find shelter and
receive an education with the logistical help of Turkish Armenians,'
Ba?dat said. `There is no need to send them to Turkish refugee camps,'
he added.

Since the beginning of the clashes around Kessab, Ankara has issued
official statements welcoming Armenians from Kessab. During a visit to
Brussels, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu reiterated on Monday that
Turkey's doors are `wide open' to Syrian Armenians and dismissed
accusations that Turkey is deliberately helping an al-Qaeda-linked
group that is killing Armenians.

`This is not the case,' said Davuto?lu, adding that Turkey would help
anyone fleeing the Syrian war and will welcome the Armenians without
any discrimination, just as it has been helping hundreds of thousands
of other Syrians fleeing Syria.

`If, as Turkey claims, it does not have a sectarian policy but is
dealing with the Syria issue from a humanitarian perspective, then it
should do something to save Syrian Armenians who were victims of the
genocide,' Ba?dat said. He also mentioned that Armenians are deeply
concerned that the acceptance of Armenian refugees might be used by
the Turkish government to propagandize claims that the Turkish
government has accommodated Armenians from Syria -- proving that they
have never had problems with Armenians in their history.