Hundreds attended a rally in Toronto on Thursday to voice concerns over Turkey’s role in the destruction of the ancient Armenian village of Kassab in Syria, whose residents have fled after rebels seized control, CTV Toronto reports.
The Armenian Youth Federation of Canada organized a demonstration in front of the Consulate of Turkey, demanding Turkey stop facilitating attacks by extremist foreign fighters. Turkish officials refute claims that Turkey is providing support to opposition forces.
On Thursday, a crowd of people spilled across the sidewalk in front of the building at Lower Spadina Avenue and Queens Quay West, holding cardboard signs with slogans such as “Stop aiding terrorists” and “Hands off Syria.”
AYF Canada said hundreds of Armenian-Canadians from across the country had been invited to the gathering. The group is calling on the international community to intervene, to keep Christian and other ethnic minorities from being persecuted. Ethnic Armenians account for about 70 per cent of Kassab’s population.
Located near the border with Turkey, the predominantly Armenian town had avoided major battles until recently, AYF Canada wrote in a statement.
For decades, the town had served as a safe-haven for Armenians fleeing from the war-torn Syrian cities of Yacubiye, Raqqa and Aleppo.
On March 21, an attack was launched in Kassab, forcing residents to flee to nearby Latakia and Bassit. Attacks resulted in the looting and desecration of residences and churches in the area, the statement said.
Syrian rebels have pressed their offensive deeper into the heartland of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Alawite sect. More recently, opposition fighters with reported ties to hard-line Islamic groups, including the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, launched an offensive on the northern stretches of Latakia province along the Turkish frontier.
The protesters gathering in Toronto on Thursday called upon Turkey to take steps to secure its border and prevent intruders from entering Syria near Kassab.
Ottawa issued a statement expressing concern on March 25.
“Canada is deeply concerned by the recent attacks by al Qaeda affiliated armed groups on the ancient Armenian town of Kessab in the Latakia district of northern Syria during which Armenian churches were reportedly desecrated and Armenians driven from their homes,” Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, said in a statement.
“The continued attacks against Christians, including Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians and Armenian Catholics, in Syria are unacceptable.”
Bennett went on to say that Canada stands “determined that the perpetrators be brought to justice for such acts and to stem the rising tide of sectarian violence.
“Canada remains deeply concerned by the suffering of the Syrian people from all communities and by widespread reports of violations of human rights, including reports of churches and mosques being destroyed or used for military purposes.
Online, the hashtag #SaveKessab is being used to draw attention to the cause.