Far from being repentant of the Armenian Genocide, Turkey, under the leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan, is again, like its Ottoman forbear, targeting Armenians; is again causing their death and dislocation.
In the early morning hours of March 21, al-Qaeda linked Islamic jihadis crossed into Syrian territory from the Turkish border and launched a jihad on the Christian/Armenian town of Kessab. Among other thing, “Snipers targeted the civilian population and launched mortar attacks on the town and the surrounding villages.” Reportedly eighty people were killed.
The jihadis later made a video touring the devastated town. No translation is needed, as the main phrase shouted throughout is Islam’s triumphant war cry, “Allahu Akbar” (or, according to Sen. John McCain’s translation, “thank God”).
Eyewitnesses say the jihadis crossed the Turkish border into Syria, “openly passing through Turkish military barracks. According to Turkish media reports, the attackers carried their injured back to Turkey for treatment in the town of Yayladagi.”
About two-thousand Armenians were evacuated to safer areas in neighboring Basit and Latakia. Several of these families are currently living inside the churches of these towns. Ten to fifteen families with members too elderly to flee remained in Kessab, their fate currently unknown.
Syrian troops launched a counteroffensive, but al-Qaeda linked jihadis “once again entered the town of Kessab, took the remaining Armenian families hostage, desecrated the town’s three Armenian churches, pillaging local residences and occupying the town and surrounding villages.”
Reports further indicate that “the attacks of the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra organization and the Islamic Front was supported with artillery fire from Turkish artillery units. A Syrian MIG-23 war plane which attended to the operation towards the terror groups was shot down by Turkish Air Forces on 23 March.”
Bashar al-Assad naturally denounced before the United Nations Turkey’s support for terrorists—even as some European leaders, such as Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, were praising Turkey for its supposedly increased democracy and human rights, and supporting the Islamic nation’s inclusion into the European Union, indifferent to the fact that Erdogan banned Twitter in Turkey after tweets exposed his government’s corruptions.
Nor are Armenians and others missing the significance of Turkey’s role. In a written statement, the Armenian National Committee-International condemned Turkey’s active role in aiding and abetting Christian persecuting jihadi groups:
For months, we have warned the international community of the imminent threat posed by extremist foreign fighters against the Christian minority population in Syria. These vicious and unprompted attacks against the Armenian-populated town and villages of Kessab are the latest examples of this violence, actively encouraged by neighboring Turkey. We call upon all states with any influence in the Syrian conflict to use all available means to stop these attacks against the peaceful civilian population of Kessab, to allow them to return to their homes in safety and security. In the last one hundred years, this is the third time that the Armenians are being forced to leave Kessab and in all three cases, Turkey is the aggressor or on the side of the aggressors [emphasis added].
On March 24, Samvel Farmanyan, a member of the Armenian National Assembly, traveled to Syria to meet with Kessab’s dislocated Armenians: “I should say the impression was shocking,” he said. “The situation is like the one we have read about in textbooks and literature about the Armenian Genocide, in the memories of Genocide survivors…. These are tragic events, which cannot but bring forth obvious parallels with the events of 100 years ago—the Armenian Genocide.”
Video interviews with the recently dislocated Armenians of Syria further document this sentiment. One elderly man says “We’ve been here 97 years since they slaughtered us in Turkey. These al-Qaeda ‘rebel’ groups are the grandsons of Abdul Hamid” (the Ottoman sultan who committed the first systematic genocide of Armenians).
Nor were these early massacres limited to Armenians but rather targeted Christians in general. As one Syrian-American woman points out in writing to me just now: “The Hamidian Massacres (1894-1896) led to the mass exodus of Christians from the Levant to the USA. My grandfather was one of those who fled persecution. His father was shot, by an Ottoman Turk, in front of their ancestral home. Seven children were left fatherless. My grandfather, the eldest son, left Syria, and traveled as an indentured man, through Mexico, to find freedom and safety in the USA. The entire family eventually joined him.”
Such is the continuity and interconnectivity of history. Due to the Ottoman Empire’s ethnic cleansing campaign and mass dislocation of Armenians, some of the latter who survived ended up in places like Kessab. Today, due to modern Turkey’s support for Islamic jihadis, the Armenians of Kessab are once again being killed and displaced.
Years, decades, and centuries go by; names, narratives and rhetoric change; utopian ideals and materialistic rationalizations become ubiquitous. Yet the same story, the same enmity—Turkish to Armenian, or more distilled yet, Muslim to Christian—lives on, even if in different contexts and formats.