WSJ: Latakia offensive stirs dark memories for Armenian-Syrians

When hardline Islamist rebels took over swaths of Latakia province this week, it provided them with their first outpost on the Mediterranean Sea. But for Armenian-Syrians from the town of Kassab in Latakia, which rebels overran this weekend, the Turkish involvement reminded them of a dark chapter in their history: the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, reads an article published by The Wall Street Journal. 

For many of Kassab’s Armenian-Syrians, the Nusra Front occupies one side of the same coin the Turks do as well – an existential threat in a war where initial concepts like freedom and democracy have been sidelined by minorities’ concerns, steeped in thousand-year-old memories of past injustices perpetrated across the region. Better the devil you know, than the one you don’t, is the common Christian refrain.

Armenian-Syrians expressed outrage Sunday over radical Islamist rebels taking over Kassab, which they said would threaten the town’s Christian inhabitants, many supporters of President Bashar al Assad’s forces. Kassab residents cheered on Damascus in the fight against rebels this weekend, believing the alliance with Mr. Assad — an Alawite, another religious minority — a safer bet to protect their interests.

Armenian-Syrians blamed Turkey for rebel advances in Kassab — as Ankara has long turned a blind eye to rebels crossing their borders and weapons flows — and equated a win by Nusra with the Armenian genocide.

When Ankara shot down the Syrian war plane, it was too much for Kassab’s residents. They claimed an old foe – Turkey – was conspiring against them by allying with a new enemy – Sunni Muslim extremist groups like Nusra.

“The Turks are [working against] us again. This is unacceptable considering history. Genocide repeat [in] Kassab,” said one Twitter user from the town, in sentiments shared by many other Syrian-Armenians on the social networking site. “What a bad day this has been. God bless everyone who is defending the beautiful village of Kassab.”

Turkey has denied it supports extremist rebels and said it shot down the Syrian war plane to protect its territory.

The Free Syrian Army has struggled to convince minorities that they will protect them, as some al Qaeda breakaway factions like the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham impose a hard-line version of Islam on territory they capture and have even vandalized churches. The more secular FSA is backed by Western and Gulf states and recently turned their guns on ISIS.

Kassab is the last Syrian-Turkish border crossing in the government’s hands, according to rebels. The ancient town of Kassab features steep mountains dropping into the Mediterranean’s crystal blue waters, stone houses next to quaint churches hundreds of years old.

“The people of Kassab are kicked out of their houses and living in the Armenian church of Latakia [city] where they receive food from the Armenians living there,” said one student from Kassab, who now lives in the U.A.E. but is in touch with family members who recently fled the town.

“The place we used to spend our summer memories has turned into a war zone….the Free Syrian Army is bombing the place while the Syrian Army is doing all they can do to save Kassab…The only positive thing is that the people in Kassab, including my friends and family, escaped just in time. They will surely going to be homeless after the battle.”

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