Turkey shelters Syrians of Armenian origin fleeing Kasab

Eighteen Armenians, who were brought late Saturday by Syrian opposition forces to the Turkish border after they gained control of the town of Kasab, speak to Anadolu Agency about their journey

Eighteen Armenians, who were brought late Saturday by Syrian opposition forces to the Turkish border after they gained control of the town of Kasab, speak to Anadolu Agency about their journey

HATAY - A group of Syrians of Armenian origin have taken refuge in Turkey's border province of Hatay following the withdrawal of Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces from the town of Kasab in Syria's main port city, Latakia.

Eighteen Armenians were brought late Saturday by Syrian opposition forces to the Turkish border after they gained control of the town in the two-week clashes with the Syrian regime.

The Armenians were given accommodation at a guesthouse in the Vakifli neighbourhood of Hatay's Samandagi district.

Zaven Vahan Hofsetyan (79) told an Anadolu Agency correspondent that they came to Turkey of their own accord.

“The opposition forces first settled us in a place that I don't know of, and offered us food and drink. We were together with several Armenians who were brought there just like us. A week later, they took some of us to Aleppo and brought us to Turkey," Hofsetyan said.

Aspet Curyan (68), another Syrian of Armenian origin, said he was first taken to a village with three others by the opposition forces after Assad’s forces withdrew from Kasab.

"During the thirteen days when we stayed in the village, the opposition forces did not treat us badly. On the contrary, they took us to a church so that we can pray before we leave for Turkey. Then they brought us here in vehicles," he said.

Anahit Aholanya (66), who speaks Turkish, said she was stuck at her house with her uncle for five days after the clashes broke out and they were in constant fear of death.

"I told the regime soldiers to take us with them as they withdrew. All their vehicles were shot down. 'We can take you only if you can walk,' they said. As we could not walk, they left us behind.”

She went on to say that the opposition forces who came to their house told them that they would take them to another place. "'Don't take us because we can't walk. Please shoot and kill us,' I said, but they responded to me by saying that they do not kill people, and brought us to a safe place."

There were injured people among the Armenian group who had to be carried on wheelchairs, and most of them were elderly.

Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that "Turkey opens its doors to all Syrian people who have been striving to escape from the unprecedented violence and atrocities perpetrated by the Syrian regime for the last three years in order to suppress the legitimate demands of its people.”

The Ministry also said that it had informed the United Nations of the measures the Turkish government was taking to protect civilians in the town of Kasab.

It added that it had been in close cooperation with the Turkish Armenian Patriarchate and the Armenian community in Turkey since the onset of the clashes.

In a further statement late Sunday, the Ministry denounced “false allegations” that Kasab was attacked by al-Qaeda forces based in Turkey. It called the claims “ugly slander.”

Kasab, whose more than 2,000 inhabitants are mostly of Armenian origin, is located in the northwestern province of Latakia, Syria's main port city.

Turkey and Syria share more than 800 km of border, and Yayladagi has repeatedly been hit by shells and rockets from the tension in Kasab.

The war between the opposition and forces loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad has been in an uneasy stalemate since late 2013.

Syria has been gripped by almost constant fighting since Assad's regime responded to anti-government protests in March 2011 with a violent crackdown, sparking a conflict which has spiraled into a civil war.

The civil war, which entered its fourth year last month, has claimed more than 140,000 lives, according to London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights.

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