The Armenian Youth Federation – Western Region hosted a town hall meeting on Wednesday at the Krikor and Mariam Karamanoukian Glendale Youth Center. Hundreds were in attendance as representatives from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the Armenian National Committee of America, the Kessab Educational Association of Los Angeles, and the Syrian-Armenian Relief Fund presented information about the recent attacks on the predominantly Armenian town of Kessab, Syria, as well as Turkey’s involvement in the occurrences.
Vahe Lepedjian, a member of the AYF-WR Central Executive, explained in his opening remarks that the AYF-WR thought it necessary to hold this meeting in order to present the community with up-to-date and accurate information regarding the recent occurrences in Kessab. Over the past few weeks, the AYF-WR has seen an overwhelming response to its #SaveKessab campaign on the internet, but information shared through social media has not always been truthful.
“As an organization that is dedicated to strengthening and educating our community, engaging and activating the masses serves as the best motivation to continue working toward our goal,” Lepedjian said. “Whether online or in person, our efforts have been matched with an overwhelming amount of interest and support.”
Speaking on behalf of the ARF was Dr. Viken Hovsepian, chairperson of the ARF Western United States Central Committee. He presented the facts of the attack, saying that residents of Kessab have evacuated the town and there have been no Armenian casualties to date. He also explained that an emergency meeting was called with the U.S. State Department the day of the attacks. Representatives from the ARF and ANCA presented facts and evidence, urging the State Department to begin a formal, independent investigation into Turkey’s involvement in the attacks. Raffi Hamparian, ANCA National Board member, spoke to the crowd about the importance of contacting their representatives in Congress and calling for congressional intelligence inquiry into the attacks.
Joining the meeting from Latakia via Skype was Garo Manjikian. He is heading relief efforts in Latakia, where the majority of Kessab residents have found refuge. He said that on the morning of March 21, locals noticed that Turkish police posts at the border were vacated. Hours later, the attackers crossed the border and attacked the town. Residents, he said, adamantly wish to return to their homes in Kessab. He thanked the international Armenian community for all its support in the last few weeks.
Esther Tognozzi, president of the KEA, thanked the community for its support and asked that any information found online be verified before sharing. She also conducted the Q&A session with Manjikian. The final speaker was Zaven Khanjian on behalf of SARF. He urged the crowd to attend the Hye Aid 3 benefit concert, the proceeds of which will help relief efforts in Kessab.
The crisis in Kessab is of particular concern to the Armenian community because of its unique historical significance as the last indigenously-populated Armenian town on the lands of historic Western Armenia. The attacks on Kessab serve as a bitter reminder of the same tactics Turkish forces utilized as a precursor to genocide in 1909 and 1915.
Wednesday’s town hall meeting attracted activists of different backgrounds. Jason Acherman, a member of the Encino Neighborhood Council, attended the meeting to be further informed on the subject of Kessab. “I just wanted to get a better sense of what’s going on and see what I, as a non-Armenian-American, can do to help,” he said. “I’m Jewish and my people have faced genocide as well, so I have deep empathy for the Armenian community.”
The AYF-WR is gratified and inspired by the success of the #SaveKessab campaign, but is likewise aware of a mass distribution of inaccurate information and images not associated with the crisis in Kessab. Moving forward, it is crucial that specific information is clarified so that the campaign and its followers can take steps in the direction of effective intervention and aid.