First Kessab Refugees Arrive in Armenia

Stepan Sularian and his wife Vartine Sularian, refugees from Kessab, speak to journalists in Yerevan, April 3, 2014. (Photo: RFE/RL)

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The first two residents of Kessab have taken refuge in Armenia and many others are said to be willing to do the same nearly two weeks after the historically Armenian-populated town in Syria was seized by Islamist rebels.

Stepan Sularian and his wife Vartine were among about 2,000 Kessab Armenians, the town’s virtually entire population, who fled their homes in the face of advancing rebel forces, among them members of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The couple crossed into neighboring Lebanon before flying to Armenia.

“We don’t know what they [the rebels] would have done to us if we had stayed in Kessab,” Sularian told reporters in Yerevan on Thursday.

The town mayor, Vasken Chaparian, confirmed earlier this week that none of the Kessab Armenians is known have been killed or wounded. Most of them are currently staying in Latakia, a provincial capital 60 kilometers south of Kessab which remains under Syrian government control.

In Sularian’s words, many of them would like to migrate to Armenia but lack money for travel expenses or fear that they will have trouble finding jobs in their ancestral homeland. “That’s what holds other people back,” explained the middle-aged man.

“Now I have come to Armenia. If I don’t get a job, how am I going to get by?” Sularian said, adding that most Kessab Armenians will readily return to their homes if Syrian government troops regain control of the town close to the Syrian-Turkish border.

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian condemned “the use of force” against them in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent last Friday. Nalbandian urged the international community to “ensure the safety and security of displaced people, including the Armenians, facilitate conditions for their early, safe and dignified return to their places of residence and provide indispensable humanitarian assistance to address their urgent needs.”

The situation in and around Kessab was on the agenda of a weekly session of Armenia’s government held on Thursday. Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian said that the Armenian diplomatic missions in Syria are keeping in touch with the local community and assessing its needs. She accused the rebels of desecrating Armenian churches and looting homes in Kessab.

Hakobian also said that representatives of various Armenian government agencies met on Wednesday to discuss ways of helping the Kessab Armenians. “If Kessab Armenians and other Syrian citizens decide to come to the [ancestral] home, all our structures and organizations will be ready to assist them,” she said.

About 10,000 ethnic Armenians from Syria have already taken refuge in Armenia since the outbreak of the bloody conflict in the Middle Eastern state two years ago. Most of them are struggling to make ends meet.


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  1. ara said:

    Might makes rights- we take our home lands stolen from the azeris and dirty turks-and grow-= our armies will dessimate them- otherwise-no defense

  2. H. Boghossian said:

    Has any organization contacted the attackers and ask if the residence could return? Since the town mayor confirms that no Armenians were killed or wounded, perhaps the attackers aim was to merely occupy the village. If that is the case, they might not be too concerned with the population re-entering the town.

    • George Terterian said:

      Except for when the Syrian government troops reenter to take it back and the civilians are in the crosshairs again.

  3. herayer said:

    the people of kessab are hard working people they have a great knowledge of farming some of them that want to come should be encouraged to settle in armenia or artshak they will be a great asset to the homeland they should be helped financially and given land even if it is temporary. kessab should always be inhabited by armenians hopefully it will be freed from the sub human mercenaries than are none syrians

    • George Terterian said:

      Kessabtsis are in their homeland. Kessab is part and parcel of Western Armenia and Cilicia. Kessab is not Aleppo or Beirut. Kessab has been Armenian for centuries.

      • H. Boghossian said:

        Yes, but don’t tell that to the Syrian government. They consider Kessab (Kassab) as Syrian territory and even want to extend their control up to Alexandrette (Hatay Province). There is no Western Armenia or Cilicia in their equation. In fact their is no Lebanon either.

  4. Gohar Panajyan said:

    Dear kessabtzi hayrenakitzner,
    I am also kessabtzi and am ready to supprot you in all ways I can in Armenia. Pery igiq Hayastan!

  5. Adam said:

    save Armenians in Aleppo , save Armenians in Aleppo , save Armenians in Aleppo

  6. a. seb said:

    Maybe all Armenians leaving Syria should be encouraged and assisted to settle in Artsakh or NKR.

  7. Levon said:

    Really mr boghosian: I honestly hope your comment is a joke as these people want to kill Christians at any opportunity. They are praised by Turks (gentanee) and these al quada scum are of Tunisians and Chechen decent and are freely entering less an through turkey to massacre our people freely as they have for years

    • H. Boghossian said:

      I’m merely referring to the mayor’s comments that no Armenians were killed or wounded. This is contrary to what was initially reported. I’ve also heard that no churches were destroyed or damaged. It seems like we were not the intended target. This type of fighting and take over of a village has been repeating itself throughout Syria. It does not look extraordinary in the context of this civil war. Of course it’s unique to us, but in general it is just another fight for them Therefore, let’s play it smart and negotiate with the occupiers. Either way, we are not in charge of our own destiny. Whether government or militia control, we have no say in the matter. It is in our benefit to open dialog and negotiate with the controlling power.

      • Sarkis said:

        You are a pretty good example of how it was exactly that the Turks managed to utterly destroy the western Armenians in 1915 with almost no resistance.

    • Mariamjon said:

      What a joke…….. Turks have been looking for any excuse to come over that border,
      and massacre Armenians. Yes, Mr. Boghossian – the Turks didn’t want to KILL ALL of
      MY Family members in VAN in 1915…….they just wanted to live in my grandfathers house.
      I guess you think that they accidentally got killed….?

  8. H. Boghossian said:

    Why is it that we Armenians never demanded independence for Kessab? After all it is part of Western Armenia. Just like we demand our lands back from Turkey, we should demand Kessab back from Syria. Both governments are occupying Armenian land. I say we start a drive to demand independence of Kessab. It could be the launching point for greater Western Armenia.

  9. Alex Postallian said:

    The term chechan,isnt that a alias,for a jerky turk….

  10. Krikor said:

    H Bogosian
    Wake up. You better encourage the Suriahais to settle in Artsakh

  11. bigmoustache said:

    this is our beautiful land on the Mediterranean, our last piece of Cilicia and we WONT give it up. just like we should fight to preserve our presence in Beirut, Anjar, Haleb, Jerusalem..
    after this is done we will #RebuildKessab.