Armenia has expressed its ‘deep concern’ over the situation around a Syrian town near the border with Turkey where its mainly ethnic Armenian residents have had to abandon their homes fleeing cross-border attacks by militant groups.
In a statement made from the Hague, Netherlands, where he is attending a two-day nuclear security summit, President Serzh Sarkisian described the developments around the town of Kesab as “a serious challenge” to modern-day mechanisms of protecting ethnic minorities.
Earlier, the Armenian National Committee-International also condemned the attacks, accusing Turkey of playing an active role in “aiding and abetting extremist groups in their targeted attacks against the Christian and minority populations in Syria.”
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“We all well remember the history of Kesab, which, unfortunately, has been full of hellish events of the deportation of Armenians during the past century,” President Sarkisian said, citing the first invasion of the place by Turkish armed groups in 1909 and the second wave of deportations and massacres of the Kesab population amid the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
“The third displacement of Kesab Armenians today is a serious challenge to the 21st-century mechanisms of defending ethnic minorities. I think that everyone should realize that these parallels should be sobering for all sides,” the Armenian president underscored.
At the same time, Sarkisian thanked the Syrian authorities “for the steps they have been taking in this difficult moment for defending the Armenians of Kesab.”
“I have already instructed the Armenian diplomatic missions at the UN headquarters in New York and Geneva to follow at specialized bodies dealing with human rights and ethnic minority rights the issues of ensuring the security of the Kesab Armenians and their safe return to the places of permanent residence,” Sarkisian said.
The Armenian president also reported on his discussion of the situation with Lebanon-based Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I. According to Sarkisian, the Armenian embassy in Syria is working on a program of necessary measures to fully assist the Armenians of Kesab.
Meanwhile, hundreds of ethnic Armenians who were evacuated from Kesab and now stay at their relatives’, friends’ or in Armenian churches in neighboring Latakia hope they can return to their homes soon. They get support in the form of food and essential items from local Armenian organizations as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“At this moment there are no casualties among Armenians. They were able to reach Latakia thanks to the government troops,” one ethnic Armenian woman from Kesab named Shoghik told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Armenia’s authorities are following the situation, trying to find ways to help Armenians,” Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan told local media.
Armenian Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian also voiced concern today over the situation around Kesab. In reply to a question of opposition Heritage faction member Tevan Poghosian about possible steps of Armenia in connection with the matter, Abrahamian said: “We are not entitled to interfere in the internal affairs of that state [Syria]. In my opinion, it is a deeper problem. I find that for the deputies to be aware of the situation, we should organize hearings with the relevant ministry.”