Schiff questions Samantha Power on UN action on Kessab

Most United Nations Security Council members have “raised the issue” of the recent takeover of the historically Armenian town of Kessab, Syria, and urged the world body “to do more to meet the needs of these people,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and members of a key House Appropriations panel Wednesday during a Congressional hearing, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

“We join with Armenians across California and around America in thanking Congressman Schiff for raising the plight of the Armenians driven out of Kessab with Ambassador Power,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We appreciate Ambassador Power’s statement that Kessab is ‘an issue of huge concern,’ and value her explanation to Congress about the UN Security Council’s efforts to help the Armenian civilians driven from their homes by extremist militants. We will continue to work, in partnership with our friends in Congress, to encourage our government to speak directly to the cause of Kessab’s suffering – namely the clear complicity of Turkey in the al-Qaeda linked attack that drove more than 2,000 Armenians from their ancestral homes.”

The ANCA has called on the Senate and House Intelligence committees to investigate Turkey’s role in the recent attacks against the Kessab civilian population. A new action alert has been posted and has received broad support following social media posts by citizens and celebrities alike.

During a question and answer session at the House Appropriations Committee State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee hearing with Ambassador Power earlier today, Rep. Schiff asked “About a week ago, the town of Kessab, which is predominantly Armenian Christian, was attacked by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters who had crossed over from Turkey and the town was emptied in a bloody assault. Many of the residents are descendants of the Armenian Genocide and there is particular poignancy in them being targeted in this manner.” Rep. Schiff went on to ask what efforts the United Nations and its agencies are making to address the crisis.

Ambassador Power, noting that the recent attacks on Kessab are a “huge concern,” went on to note that: “Most of the [UN Security] Council members raised the issue of Kessab, calling on the UN to do more, to try to meet the needs of these people. […] I would note that, unfortunately, the extremist group that appears to have taken hold of that town is not one that the United States and the United Nations overall has a great deal of leverage over. And so, our emphasis now, is on supporting the moderate opposition in Syria that is taking on those extremist groups and making sure that the UN has the funding it needs, and the resources of all kinds that it needs to accommodate […] in this case, the Syrian Armenian community, as you said, an internally displaced population flow. So, it’s resources, it’s strengthening the moderate opposition which is taking on ISIL – the very group that appears to have taken over that town – making sure that none of the neighbors are giving support to terrorist groups or extremist groups which would aid their efforts in seizures like that, and going on a funding drive internationally because only a very small percentage of the UN funding appeal for Syria generally has been filled at this point.”

Located in the northwestern corner of Syria, near the border with Turkey, Kessab had, until very recently, evaded major battles in the Syrian conflict. The local Armenian population had increased in recently years with the city serving as safe-haven for those fleeing from the war-torn cities of Yacubiye, Rakka and Aleppo. On the morning of March 21st, extremist foreign fighters launched a vicious attack, from Turkey, on Kessab civilians, forcing over 2000 to flee to neighboring Latakia and Bassit. An international social media campaign – #SaveKessab – has garnered broad media attention to the tragedy with over 100,000 tweeting about the crisis and tens of thousands calling for immediate U.S. and U.N. action.

In a statement issued last week, the U.S. State Department noted that they are “deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is endangering the Armenian community in Kasab, Syria and has forced many to flee. There are far too many innocent civilians suffering as a result of the war. All civilians, as well as their places of worship, must be protected.” The statement went on to note that “We have long had concerns about the threat posed by violent extremists and this latest threat to the Armenian community in Syria only underscores this further.”

Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), James McGovern (D-MA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) have condemned the attacks and urged the State Department to investigate Turkey’s involvement. In a joint letter to President Obama issued earlier today, Congressional Armenian Caucus co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Michael Grimm (R-NY) and Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.227) lead authors David Valadao (R-CA) and Adam Schiff, commented on the Kessab attacks, noting ” When coupled with a mass exodus of the Armenian community, these events are far too reminiscent of the early days of the Armenian Genocide, which took place nearly 100 years ago in Ottoman Turkey under the cover of World War I.” The letter goes on to note,” With the Christian Armenian community being uprooted from its homeland, yet again, we strongly urge you to take all necessary measures without delay to safeguard the Christian Armenian community of Kessab. We also believe that now is the time to redouble America’s efforts to ensure that all minority communities at risk in the Middle East are afforded greater protection.”

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