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Islamic Front attempts to reassure Latakia’s Armenian Christians

KASAB’S CHRISTIANS: Members of the Islamic Front spoke with two […]

3 April 2014

KASAB’S CHRISTIANS: Members of the Islamic Front spoke with two elderly Armenian women at Syria’s border crossing with Turkey in the northern Latakia province town of Kasab, aiming to ease a spate of international concern over the fate of Syria’s minorities in newly contested corner of northern Latakia.

“We were in our homes. We didn’t know anything. We head that people in Kasab had left to other cities,” said Sorbohi, one of the women interviewed in a video broadcast on pro-opposition network Al-Aaan on Wednesday, speaking in Armenian as she sits in front of the Islamic Front’s banner with the border crossing in the background.

“Fifteen bearded men came to our homes, asked us some questions and then told us we were safe with them,” she added, describing the March 24 rebel raid on the town, home to approximately 1,000 Armenian-Syrians, many of whom have fled 

Then, a coalition of groups including the Islamic Front’s Ahrar a-Sham and Ansar a-Sham, as well as al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat a-Nusra stormed the majority-Armenian town, seizing areas including the border crossing.

The fighters have since advanced to Tower 45 on Jebel Turkman, the highest point in northern Latakia, and seized a slice of the Mediterranean coast with the capture of the village of a-Samara 

Since then, the intensity of the media war has rivaled that of the battle on the ground. Kasab, 59 kilometers north of the Latakia province capital of Latakia, and Idlib province’s Yacoubieh are the only majority-Armenian towns in Syria.

The “#savekessab” hashtag has been shared widely on Twitter, most prominently by American celebrity Kim Kardashian, who cautioned against “letting history repeat itself,” and cited the 1920s Armenian Genocide.

Numerous photos of alleged massacres in Kasab have circulated in social media, many of them debunked as Photoshopped.

On Thursday, official Syrian news agency SANA reported Russia’s Ministry of Defense had broached the “massacre of Armenians in Kasab” to the United Nations Security Council.

In remarks this week, Syria’s permanent representative to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari earlier this week similarly accused Turkey, in its support for Syria’s rebels, of aiming to repeat the genocide and wipe out.

On the ground in Latakia, pro-opposition Latakia al-Hadath reported rebels retain control on Tower 45 on Thursday, despite numerous Syrian government claims to recapture the strategic hilltop. Meanwhile, rebels are shelling the National Defense Forces militia headquarters in the village of Qastal Ma’af. 

At the end of the interview, the translator asks in Armenian, “They are saying that when Islamists came they destroyed churches and beat and killed people. Did this happen with you?”

“No, they were very good to us,” says Sorbohi, the elderly woman in Armenian.

-By Osama Abu Zeid and Biff Parker-Magyar on April 3, 2014.

Syria Direct provides a fully subtitled version of the video here. Original courtesy of Al-Aan television. 

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