TORONTO—The Armenian Youth Federation of Canada (AYF Canada) organized a demonstration at the Consulate of Turkey in Toronto on Thursday, April 3. Hundreds of Armenian-Canadians from across southern Ontario held a demonstration voicing their concern over Turkey’s role in the destruction of the northwestern Syrian town of Kessab, whose predominantly civilian Armenian population was forced to evacuate to avoid slaughter earlier this weekend.
Located in the northwestern corner of Syria, near the border with Turkey, Kessab had, until very recently, avoided major battles in the Syrian conflict. The historically Armenian populated town had also served as a safe-haven for Armenians fleeing from the war-torn cities of Yacubiye, Rakka and Aleppo. On the morning of March 21, extremist foreign fighters launched a vicious attack on Kessab civilians, forcing them to flee to neighboring Latakia and Bassit. Subsequent attacks occurred on March 22 and 23 and included the mass looting of local residences and the desecration of Armenian Churches in the area. Around 700 Christian families have been displaced, while a few, who were too elderly to leave, have been left behind in their homes, with some eye-witness reports claiming that they are being held hostage by the rebels.
Local sources confirmed that the onslaught on Kessab was launched from Turkey by foreign fighters affiliated with an extremist wing of the al-Qaeda terrorist group. Some witnesses reported that attackers wounded during fighting were taken back across the Turkish border for medical treatment.
The protestors called upon Turkey to take all steps necessary to secure its border and prevent any incursions into Syrian territory. They demanded Turkey to explicitly disavow its support of all al Qaeda affiliated groups in the region and to ensure that these groups are expelled from its territory immediately.
AYF Canada Central Executive member, Harout Kassabian delivered a strong message to the Government of Turkey:
“Turkey, a member of NATO, has and continues to aid and abet extremist terrorist organizations. The official Al-Qaeda organization of Syria has freely entered the country through the Turkish border. Wounded attackers use Turkey as a revolving door to seek medical attention. This is a clear indication of Turkey’s involvement with an organization, which is recognized as a terrorist group by the US State Department. Are these the type of actions Canada, the US, or other NATO nations would like to be associated with? This is unacceptable to us Canadians, and should be to the world powers as well!”
Roubina Sarkissian, whose parents were born in Kessab proclaimed in her speech, “What is happening right now isn’t just a crime against the people of Kessab. This is a crime against humanity. As a Christian, it angers me to know that a group of people can lead 2,000 innocent civilians out of their homes. It is time to gather our voices and stand up to our governments and demand justice.”
Roubina’s relatives living in Kessab were part of the thousands who were displaced this past week. In her speech she made it clear to the Turkish embassy that Armenians and human rights activists worldwide will not stay silent as Turkey facilitates the destruction of Kessab. She remembered her childhood memories of Kessab describing how, “Kessab is more than just a collection of houses and gardens set upon the Mediterranean Sea. Our beautiful Kessab, our safe haven, is the outcome of hundreds of years of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ blood, sweat and tears! The spirit of our ancestors dwells in our mountains and our valleys.”
The Armenian Youth Federation of Canada is appalled at the violence committed against innocent citizens living in Kessab and in others cities and towns in Syria and demands Turkey to stop facilitating the attacks by extremist foreign fighters.