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Operation #SaveKessab
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 02 - 04 - 2014

After the appeal issued by Armenians who fled the Syrian town of Kessab last week to their fellows in the Diaspora, many things have changed. A social media campaign started Friday noon and continued throughthe weekend.
The campaign,started in the United States, was adopted by the Armenian National Committee of America(ANCA) and addressed the Kessab crisis using the hashtag #SaveKessab.Itfound success on Twitter and Facebook. Its aim was to bringthe Kessab crisisto the attention of the international media. Calls to protest infront of Turkish embassies in several countries were also heeded. The protests were organised by the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), an influential youth organisation that works in many countries. During one of the protests,that took place in Los Angeles, activists urged President Obama to condemn Turkey's actions after a heavy attack on the Armenian-populated town in the early morning of 21 March, when rebels crossed the Turkish border, lootingand occupyingpeople's homes and stores.
A demonstrationalsotook place in front of the UN office in the capital of Armenia,Yerevan, demanding anend to persecution against ethnic minorities in Syria and the use of illegal weapons. Human rights ombudsman of the Republic of Armenia,Karen Andreassian,sent an urgent message to human rights organisations across Europe and the US calling them to stop the human rights violations by Turkey and prevent the occurrence of another genocide against Armenians in Kessabinparticular, and in Syria generally.
Demonstrations in Paris took placewhen 1,500 French-Armenians expressed theiranger in front of the Turkish embassy demanding thatthe aggression against Kessab Armenianshalt. Some of the slogans read “Erdogan, Al-Qaeda terrorists!”
Earlier last week, President Bashar Al-Assad met an Armenian parliamentary delegation headed by Prime MinisterSamuel Farmanian. The delegation passed a verbal message from the president of the Republic of Armenia,Serge Sarkissian,and on behalf of the people in Armenia, condemning the terrorist attacks on Kessab that is backed by the Turkish government. Sarkissian expressed his gratitude to Syriafor itsefforts in protecting its citizens.
President Al-Assad,in turn, expressed appreciation for President Sarkissian's objectivity regarding the situation in Syria, warning of the dangers of terrorism and extremism supported by the West, and stressing the role parliamentarians should play in clarifying thosedangerstointernational parties. Members of the Armenian delegation showed their full support for Syria'sefforts to restore security and stability.
President of the Syrian parliament Mohamed Jihad Al-Lahham also met the Armenian delegation. Al-Lahham underlined the need to unite againsttakfiriideologies and strengthen parliamentary relations between Syria and Armenia. Members of the delegation called on neighbouring countries to play a positive role in supporting a peaceful solution for Syria.
Syrian Prime Minister Wael Al-Halqi too pointed out the essential role the Armenian community in Syria is playing in rebuilding the country, something that is respected and appreciated bySyrian authorities. It is noteworthy that the Armenian parliamentary delegation called on the Syrian parliament to adopt a resolution to recognise the Armenian Genocide—joiningother countries—a year before the centennial commemoration of the genocide.
The parliamentary delegation headed by Farmanian met with Armenian refugees who fled Kessab to settle in the StGeorge Armenian Monastery in Latakia.
Last week, Armenian political parties, religious denominations and charityorganisations in the Diaspora issued joint announcements pledging united support to save Kessab. His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Holy See of Cilicia invited the faithful during a Divine Liturgy last week to pray for the Armenians who fled Kessab, stressing: “It's the same Turk who organised the Armenian Genocide in the past and who ruins Kessab today.” Supreme Patriarch Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II,expressed his support forAram I, confirming that the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin will continue to support Syrian-Armenians.
Catholicos Aram I also made an appeal to Armenians around the world to help the population of Kessab. A bank account was created in Beirut, where the Catholicosate of Cilicia is based, to receive donations. “The immediate needs of the people refuged in Latakia is not only money;we also accept food, clothes and the daily essential vital needs as donations,” said Khatchig Dedeyan, chancellor at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, in telephone interview withAl-Ahram Weekly. He added that suchdonations are made through a committee created especially for the purpose. “That same committee handed in an amount of $25,000 to the Kessab local emergency committee asfinancial assistance to meetthe refugeepeoples'daily needs. And in that context, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I thought of creating a bank account to receive donations from around the world,” said Dedeyan,stating that Armenian communities everywhere are already acting.
Jeffrey Feltman, UN undersecretary general for political affairsanda formerUS ambassador toLebanon, called His Holiness Aram I, expressing the UN's concern about the situation in Kessab. “Feltman told His Holiness that he has been in contact with Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and the ambassadors of Armenia and Turkey at the UN,” said the Catholicosate Chancellor, who added that Catholicos Aram I described to Feltman the role Turkey is playing in the Kessab crisis and proposed that Kessab be declared a demilitarised zone for which Feltman promised to follow up and discuss with Brahimi.
The National Council of Churches (NCC) has sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern about the plight of Christian communities in Syria, especially the depopulation of the Armenian community of Kessab, stating:“On behalf of the National Council of Churches, we would urge you to be vigilant in your efforts to end the Syrian conflict, and among these efforts find a way to especially safeguard the vulnerable Christian communities, and particularly to restore stability to the Armenian communities of Kessab. With membership in the Council that includes churches with roots in the Middle East, including the Armenian community, we stand ready to assist you in these efforts in whatever way we can.”
US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf last Friday said:“We are deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is endangering the Armenian community in Kessab, Syria, and has forced many to flee.” This came a day after a meeting between a delegation of ANCA and State Department officials.
But ANCA Washington DC office executive director Aram Hamparian told theWeekly: “The US government's welcome expression of concern regarding Kessab has been, from the start, undermined by the State Department's refusal to criticise Turkey for it's obvious role in these anti-Armenian attacks.”
Hamparian is hopeful that Washington will recognise the facts on the ground and take steps to restrain its NATO ally.
News that 22 Kessab Armenians were kidnapped and detained in a Turkish prison, of which the three were released, has strained the situation further. “The community is reluctant to reveal or talk about the incident to avoid creating horror among its members, but it happened,” a Damascus-based source told the Weekly on condition of anonymity. The source meanwhile assured that YouTube footage circulated on the social networks showing the killing of Kessab Armenians is false. Last week, when the #SaveKessab campaign started, AYF asked people posting about Kessab to verify the authenticity of information before posting it.
Among the celebrities who tweeted on Kessab events were American-Armenian singer Cher (Cherilyn Sarkissian) and Kim Kardashian. Cher's tweet was: “Please check out what's going on in Kessab, Syria. Innocent Christians and Armenians being killed by Turks,” while one of Kardashian's several tweets read: “Please, let's not let history repeat itself!!!! Let's get this trending!!! #SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide.”
Football player Nuri Sahin, of Turkish origin, also posted the hashtag #SaveKessab on his Facebook page, in solidarity.
While the hashtag trend continues, thousands of Armenian Facebook users changed their profile pictures to the same in solidarity. “The campaign quickly alerted millions globally about this crisis while rallying a more focused base of activists to take targeted political action. Combined with our more traditional advocacy, social networking delivered real results. As we know, elected officials and policymakers are very often more inclined to do the right thing when they know their actions are the subject of careful public scrutiny,” Hamparian told the Weekly.

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