Turkey home to Armenian Syrians as Assad strikes Kasab

By M. Bilal Kenasari, Monday, April 07, 2014

The Syrian Armenian town of Kasab sees clashes between Free Syrian Army and Assad regime, forcing Armenians to seek refuge in Turkey

The Syrian Armenian town of Kasab sees clashes between Free Syrian Army and Assad regime, forcing Armenians to seek refuge in Turkey

ANKARA - In the recent spate of clashes between Bashar Assad's regime and the Syrian opposition in the northern Syrian town of Kasab near the Turkish border,  Armenian Syrians flee to Turkey.

The Syrian civil war entered its fourth year with clashes ensuing between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Assad regime in the Northern part of Syria, Kasab, a predominantly Armenian populated area causing Armenians to be displaced in Syria, while some managed to escape to Turkey with the help of the Free Syrian Army.

Opposition forces provided 18 Syrians of Armenian descent safe passage Saturday to a border town in Turkey's Hatay province.

"War broke out near our home. The opposition brought us to a safe spot in Kasab... they treated us very well," Anehud Arahunyan (67) told an Anadolu Agency correspondent after arriving at Yayladagi town.

The Syrians, seven of whom were women, were greeted by Yayladagi District Governor Turan Yilmaz, District Police Commander Akif Kizilkaya and customs personnel after opposition forces transported them to Kasab Border Gate.

"Our country's door is open to all who are victims... First we will host you, and then transport you to the place you wish to go," Yilmaz told the Armenian Syrians.

Last week, two elderly Syrian Armenians fleeing to Turkey during escalating tension in a village in the coastal province of Latakia have settled in Hatay, where the Vakifli Armenian village is located.

Two Armenian sisters Sirpuhi Titizyan, 80, and Satenik, 82, were saved from their houses in Kasab by Syrian opposition fighters and settled in a neighborhood populated largely by Armenians in Hatay's Samandag town.

Sirpuhi Titizyan told the Anadolu Agency that she had no family in Syria other than her sister Satenik and her married daughter in Aleppo, with whom she lost contact following the escalation of the conflict in the village. 

She said, "One morning, some 10 people entered our home, who we later learned were Syrian opposition fighters. We were very scared at first, but they asked if we needed anything and brought something for us to eat. They were very kind to us."

She said she and her sister asked the opposition fighters to bring them to Latakia, but they declined due to security reasons, so they then asked to be taken to Turkey. 

Cem Capar, the Armenian community leader of the Vakifli village said, "We raised our voices over Sunni massacres. We wished for an urgent end to this war. Also, we did the same regarding Alawite massacres. Now Armenians are suffering, they empty their houses. We wish for the war to come to an end and for these people to find peace," Capar said.

In the United States, Kim Kardashian, a celebrity of Armenian descent, twitted and asked her followers to support the town of Kasab.

"If you don't know what's going on in Kasab, please google it, its heart breaking!"

Despite Turkey opening its borders for those who are running away from the Syrian civil war, on March 28, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles to protest against Turkey and gave messages like "Freedom from Turkish aggression."

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said last week that allegations that Turkey is providing support to opposition forces in Kasab by letting them use its territory or through other means during the country's conflict are "totally unfounded and untrue."

Also, despite the fact that the Free Syrian Army is being blamed for the Armenian problem in northern part of the Syrian town, Musa Kordmisyan (62), an Armenian Syrian, who was injured in Kasab, spoke to the AA and confirmed that his life was saved by their help. He was injured by a piece of shrapnel and the Syrian opposition forces asked him where he wanted to be taken for medical care. Kordmisyan replied that he just wanted to get well. The opposition took him to hospital near Latakia -- an opposition-controlled neighborhood -- and he said, "I went through surgery and my life was saved."

Kordmisyan added that he has not seen any opposition group member injuring or killing any Armenians.

Ahmad Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition said, "Our battle is not a sectarian one -- but our battle is with this ruling mafia. It is not with the Alawites, nor with the Armenians or the Christians."

The Syrian opposition has refuted claims that its fighters attacked the Armenian community of Kasab in the northwestern coast after capturing the town in late March.

The leading armed opposition group Free Syrian Army's commander Anas Abu Malik told the AA on Thursday that opposition fighters were "making a great effort" to meet the needs of the local community.

The town of Kasab, in Syria's main port city Latakia, has over 2,000 inhabitants, who are mostly of Armenian origin.

Malik warned against a media campaign by the Syrian regime, which seeks to pressure the opposition by claiming the residents were attacked after the town was captured by the Free Syrian Army two weeks ago.

Malik said the regime wanted to create the image of a conflict between "extremists and minorities" in Syria.

"The war in Syria is between the oppressed Syrian people, who want freedom, and the oppressive regime which killed 150,000 people in three years," he said.

Abdel Wahed Estifo, a Christian member of the main opposition group Syrian National Coalition, has said opposition fighters were sensitive in their treatment of the communities in areas where they hold control. 

"The regime of Assad is raining bombs on its people -- Alawites and Sunnis, Muslims and Christians, Arabs and Armenians alike," Estifo said. "The people of Kasab need protection not from the opposition, but from Assad."

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 Turkish Foreign Ministry has said Turkey had been sheltering around 800,000 Syrians and had now "in accordance with its humanitarian and conscientious responsibility notified the relevant U.N. bodies that Syrian Armenians residing in the Kasab region can be admitted into Turkey too where they will be guaranteed protection."

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

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

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