What's Really Happening in Kessab, Syria? - KMSP-TV

From Anchor Araksya Karapetyan

What's Really Happening in Kessab, Syria?

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Over the last several days a number of reports have been circulating online, claiming violent atrocities by rebels, and genocide against the Armenians in Syria. Many have been asking why the media is not covering these developments, or shedding light on what's happening in Kessab.

For those who don't know, Kessab is located in Syria, Latakia Province, just miles away from Turkey. This region was a former Bashar al-Assad stronghold. Kessab is home to the last indigenous Armenian population on the territory of the former Ottoman Empire. I am told roughly 3,500 Armenians live in and around Kessab.

On March 21, extremist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda reportedly crossed into Syria from Turkey and seized the town after clashes with Syrian government troops and local self-defense squads. Since this happened, there have been conflicting reports. Many Armenians are accusing Turkey of allowing the jihadists to cross their border to attack Kessab and commit genocide against the Armenian population.

I think it is extremely important to keep an eye on and follow the events that are happening there but I also think it is equally important to be careful when it comes to what information is shared. In this case there has been plenty of misinformation and inaccurate reporting.

Here is a perfect example of what I am talking about- there was one video that made its rounds online and certainly caught my attention when I first saw it. This video claimed to show the massacre of Armenians in Kessab by rebels. Extremely graphic footage showed men being shot in the heads by their attackers. Well, it turns out the footage had nothing to do with Kessab but it was part of the video allegedly depicting execution of Syrian soldiers in Aleppo last December. At this point, there is no information that confirms any civilians have been killed in Kessab.

In reading article after article I came across an interview with political scientist Levon Melik-Shahnazaryan explaining why the events in Kessab should not be presented as a genocide. Below is a summary of some of the points that are made during his interview with reporters.

According to Melik-Shahnazaryan it would be inaccurate to portray what took place in Kessab as a genocide. He says there haven't been any civilian victims; if there have been any victims, those may have been men serving in the army. The Syrian army, as well as Armenian organizations, managed to get people out of Kessab in time.  Melik-Shahnazaryan goes on to note that if people had not fled in time, perhaps they would have been killed. That shouldn't be ruled out. But that's not what happened. No lives were lost because people got out in time. Of course, they fled and they were forced to leave but they did it in time and fortunately, no one got killed. Also, the mayor of Kessab, Vazgen Chaparyan, reports that 18 elderly people stayed in Kessab and they are all alive.

However, homes did get destroyed and people are displaced. There is a need for humanitarian aid and people are in an extremely difficult situation.

You can also watch the full interview in Armenian here: http://www.panorama.am/en/all-videos/2363/

As I was looking into this story this afternoon, I ironically met an Armenian from Kessab, who has family living there now (well technically now they are in Latakia, along with everyone else who ran away). He told me he has been in constant contact with his family and that they are safe. They told him a group associated with Al-Qaeda did cross over from Turkey into Kessab. Homes were destroyed, churches were damaged, livestock was slaughtered, but no one was killed. Everyone got out of the town. No genocide at this point has taken place.

That being said... #SaveKessab has been retweeted over and over. Again, some images claiming to show violence, are not authentic. In this case, having images circulate on social media that are not genuine and completely unrelated to the events there, only discredits the #SaveKessab campaign. It also damages credibility of what we call a genocide. The situation in Kessab is a humanitarian catastrophe and without a doubt, Armenians there do need support. But since no one has been killed, we cannot call it a genocide.

Events continue to develop… It is hard to know what really is happening since we are not there to see and report on it ourselves.

But it certainly is comforting to know, at least, that those horrible images that have been circulating online are false and no massacres have taken place.

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