When news came that the historic Armenian-inhabited village of Kessab in Syria had been attacked by rebel forces and its people were forced to flee, a shudder went through the global Armenian community.
Kessab, normally a 2,000-person village on the border between Syria and Turkey, was primarily settled by Armenians in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Just over a week ago, insurgents with reported ties to al-Qaeda pushed into the area with Turkey’s blessing, forcing Armenians from their homes.
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Online, the hashtag #SaveKessab is being used on social media platforms to draw attention to the devastation the village and its people have faced in the Syrian civil war.
In Montreal, Lalai Manjikian, an Armenian-Montrealer with family in Kessab, said she fears for the town, which she described as a “gorgeous, mountainous village” just a few kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea.
“Like many Armenians throughout the world, I feel personally a deep historic and ancestral connection to Kessab,” Manjikian told CBC Daybreak host Mike Finnerty on Monday.
“The situation is dire. Our family members have fled Kessab and they’ve taken refuge mainly in Latakia (a major port city in Syria),” Manjikian said. “They now find themselves in complete limbo.”
Hagop Der Katchadourian, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee International Council, said forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have moved in and taken control of Kessab.
He said major damage has been done to homes, many of which are centuries-old, in Kessab and that churches in the small village had been “desecrated” by anti-Assad rebel forces.
“It is definitely taken at this stage because those forces are still roaming the streets,” Der Katchadourian said.
He said, however, that it is important to distinguish between legitimate rebel forces fighting the Assad regime, and extremist groups ransacking the area.
Both Der Katchadourian and Manjikian called on the Canadian government to continue protecting minority groups in Syria, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced Armenians.
Der Katchadourian also said the Canadian government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper should tell Turkey that allowing cross-border attacks is not acceptable.
“Turkey is a major regional power and as such it has full control of its frontiers,” he said.