ISTANBUL (Today’s Zaman)—Turkey’s Armenian community has criticized Ankara’s indifference towards Armenians from Syria’s Kessab region fleeing from the war-torn country and seeking shelter in Turkey, also bringing attention to the inadequacy of Turkish-Armenian associations, including the Armenian Patriarchate, in helping Kessab Armenians settle in Turkey.
The Turkish-Armenian community came together on Saturday in a conference to discuss the problems of Kessab Armenians, whose predicament appeared in the Turkish media earlier in April when two Armenian sisters from Kessab, Satenik (82) and Surpuhi (80) Titizian, arrived in Yayladağı after being escorted by Syrian rebels to the Turkish-Syrian border. They were offered refuge in Vakıflı village, the only remaining Armenian village in Turkey.
Kessab is located on the Mediterranean coast of northern Syria, close to the border with Turkey. Having been populated by Armenians for centuries, Kessab is a town with a Christian population in a country with a majority Islamic population. As the Syrian civil war continues, some areas of the country have been taken over by extremist and Islamist militants. Kessab came under attack by some of those militants. The Turkish government has been criticized over its complacency and even support for rebel extremists who have found safe haven in Turkey near the Syrian border to carry out operations.
“The Titizyan sisters were not brought to Turkey, they were kidnapped,” said Aris Nalcı, a Turkish-Armenian journalist from IMC TV during an event held about the life of Kessab Armenians in Vakıflı village on Saturday.
Before the Titizyan sisters came to Turkey, there were reportedly 130 people living in Vakıflı, mostly elderly individuals. On May 5, 19 more ethnic Armenians from Syria, most of them elderly and on wheelchairs, joined the Titizyan sisters in Vakıflı. After most moved on to Lebanon, there are now only six Kessab Armenians left in Vakıflı. An old man who was also planning to leave for Lebanon died of a heart attack in Vakıflı and was buried there.
“They were people in the depths of despair,” said an old Armenian resident from Vakıflı, sharing his experiences and impressions. He welcomed the arrival of ethnic Armenians fleeing Syria to Turkey to their village, which is within view of the Syrian-Turkish border in Hatay province.
“It was a very emotional moment for me when I heard them murmuring to each other that they were among Armenians after they noticed we were all speaking Armenian,” the old man said.
Ankara had said in April that Turkey’s doors are “wide open” to the largely Armenian residents of the Kessab region of Syria, which is under the threat of clashes between Syrian rebel forces.
Turkey has been criticized by Armenians worldwide for providing assistance to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups who are killing Armenians in Syria. Dismissing the criticisms, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has argued against what he called the “wrong image of Turkey,” adding that the country’s doors are wide open for Armenians living in Kessab.
He also said Turkey has made official statements about the case of Kessab Armenians since the beginning of the clashes near Kessab and has informed the acting Armenian patriarch and other minority leaders in Turkey about the incidents.