Rebels fire back at #SaveKessab campaign, claim to protect Armenians


April 6, 2014

FREE TO GO: The Islamic Front’s Ansar a-Sham released a video Saturday purporting to show its fighters transporting Armenian citizens from the northwestern Syrian town of Kessab to meet relatives on the Turkish border, in an apparent response to public concerns over the fate of Kessab’s Armenian Christian population.

It was great, everything was fine—many thanks to all of you,” says one woman upon arriving at the Kessab border crossing in north Latakia province, responding to a question from the videographer regarding how she had been treated by rebels.

As she speaks, a rebel fighter with his face covered lifts an elderly woman out of a van.

The video follows a flurry of online discussion regarding the plight of Kessab’s Armenian population, including the emergence of a #SaveKessab campaign on Twitter, which gained international visibility when Armenian-American celebrity Kim Kardashian compared ongoing events in the town to the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century.

“This is a lie, it’s all lies—we were treated excellently,” says the Armenian woman in the video, responding to a question about allegations that Kessab’s Armenians had been mistreated by rebels.

The video comes as pro-opposition Latakia al-Hadath reported Saturday that opposition forces had transported 20 elderly Armenian Christians from Kessab to Turkey, noting that rebels had “turned them over to Turkish authorities, who secured warm shelter for them.”

On March 20, Syrian rebel factions including Jabhat a-Nusra and the Islamic Front’s Ansar a-Sham and Ahrar a-Sham announced the start of a campaign to capture territory along Syria’s northwestern Mediterranean coast. Kessab became the first major flashpoint in the fighting, with rebels quickly claiming large swathes of the town, including the border crossing.

Rebels have retained their control of the area, but the initial fighting and ongoing shelling from regime forces have prompted residents to flee 

“Kessab is safe in your hands,” says another Armenian at the end of the video, bidding farewell to the opposition fighters who transferred him to the border.

– By Osama abu Zaid and Alex Simon on April 6, 2014.

Video courtesy of the Latakia Local Coordination Committee.

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