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U.S. State Department “Deeply Troubled” by Attacks Against Armenians
in Kessab, Syria
March 29, 2014
By Taniel Koushakjian
Yesterday, Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson at the U.S. Department of
State, made the following statement during the daily press briefing:
We are deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is
endangering the Armenian community in Kessab, Syria, and has forced
many to flee. There are far too many innocent civilians suffering as
a result of the war. All civilians, as well as their places of
worship, must be protected. As we have said throughout this conflict,
we deplore continued threats against Christians and other minorities
in Syria. And as you may have seen from the readout of President
Obama’s conversation with Pope Francis yesterday, they discussed among
other things the plight of minorities, especially Christians, inside
We have seen some statements by groups fighting in Kessab saying they
will not target civilians and will respect minorities and holy places.
We expect those commitments to be upheld. The United States will
continue its steadfast support to those affected by violence in Syria
and throughout the region, including Syrian Armenians. We have long
had concerns about the threat posed by violent extremists, and this
latest threat to the Armenian community in Syria only underscores this
The statement comes after reports of Islamic extremists entering Syria
from Turkey laying siege to the predominantly Christian Armenian city
of Kessab, near the coastal city of Latakia in northeastern
Syria. Over 650 Armenian families have fled the city, with Armenian
homes, businesses and religious sanctuaries being overrun and looted,
according to the reports.
On Thursday, the Armenian Assembly of America’s executive director,
Bryan Ardouny, and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate of the
Armenian Church of America (Eastern),met with officials at the
U.S. Department of State. The meeting came just days after the
Assembly sent a pointed letter to President Barack Obama urging him to
take steps to safeguard the Armenians of Kessab. On Wednesday, the
Assembly publicly condemned the assault on Kessab and remains alarmed
at reports that Al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic extremists crossed into
Syria via NATO ally Turkey, resulting in the displacement of 2,000
people and the confiscation and looting of Armenian homes, businesses
and religious sanctuaries.
Also, this week the Turkish government blocked access to Twitter and
YouTube just days before the March 30th local elections that are
largely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Erdogan and his ruling
AKP party. Erdogan vowed to `eradicate Twitter’ at a recent campaign
rally. Anti-government protests have plagued Turkey since the last
summer’s Gezi Park protests that erupted after the Turkish government
announced plans to demolish a park in the city center in order to
construct a shopping mall. In recent months, allegations surrounding a
government graft probe, and the subsequent dismissal of officials
carrying out the probe by AKP party elite, has led to a wide spread
revolt against the increasingly autocratic Prime Minister Erdogan
throughout the country of 74 Million people.
According to the most recent leaked audio tape on YouTube that led to
the government censorship, senior Turkish government officials were
planning a provocative event inside Syria in order to justify Turkish
military intervention. It is currently unknown if the assault on
Kessab is related to the recent downing of a Syrian fighter jet, which
occurred hours before the terrorist siege on Kessab, Turkish
government plans for Syria, and the upcoming Turkish elections.
Below is the full exchange of Ms. Harf yesterday with a reporter on
the issue of the Syrian Armenians:
QUESTION: Yes. Regarding this statement that you made about the Syrian
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I was just wondering if you have anything – update about the
situation, or just – is this a past tense? Is something happened, or
it’s – I think it’s the ongoing – I mean –
MS. HARF: It’s an ongoing issue, certainly, that we’re concerned
QUESTION: And then how you –
MS. HARF: But there – as I noted in my statement, though, there has
been some recent fighting and an increase in violence, which is why we
wanted to note it specifically today.
QUESTION: So are there – because there are some news reports from
different sides regarding this issue for – either from the Armenians
or from the Turks and from the Syrians in the same time. Are you
following this story – I mean, this case? Are –
MS. HARF: Well, we are – I don’t know if you’re referring to a
specific case – we’re certainly following the situation for Armenians
inside Syria for all minorities, including Christians, and know that
violent extremists such as ISIL have targeted them, among many people,
but we’re particularly concerned about these minority communities and
want to make sure that their rights are protected.
QUESTION: Beside being concerned – because let me be specific about
=80` are you in touch with any of the governments, including the
Turkey =80` Turkish Government or other UN organization to figure out
exactly =80` because it’s – some of – there is a deportation of people
taking place in the last week, which is, like, starting from last week
till now. Are these – anything is going on in that regard?
MS. HARF: I can check and see who we’re talking to. Obviously, we talk
to a host of countries in the region, Turkey and others, about a wide
range of issues, but I can check on that specifically.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any – your – what you have is just, like,
observation of what’s going on, or you have information?
MS. HARF: Well, I think we have both, right. We’ve seen reports, as I
said – recent fighting, violence against the Syrian Armenian
communities. We see the reports coming out of there. Obviously, we
talk – we try to get as much information from the ground as possible,
as we do in all places in Syria, but it’s hard to get. But clearly,
there have been some very troubling trends lately.
QUESTION: Because according to some reports, that those people were
Jabhat al-Nusrah people – I’m not sure if you mentioned them in the
statement or not.
MS. HARF: Well, I was – what I’m talking about is extremist groups
like ISIL attacking innocent civilians – in this case, the Syrian
Armenian community, a minority community, as they have with other
minority communities, Christian communities, and others inside
Syria. So this is =80` what I’m talking about is those kinds of
attacks. I know there are a lot of dynamics broadly here in the Syrian
conflict, but I was speaking to one specific dynamic.
QUESTION: There is another thing which is written about this. When you
mentioned the President and he raised the issue with the Pope or the
Pope raised it with –
MS. HARF: They discussed it, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: – him, the issue, maybe I’m not – to be more accurate – is –
this issue is raised with the Syrian opposition people? Because it’s
like sometimes they don’t =80` according to what I heard last week
from the Ambassador Ford that, definitely, they are usually avoiding
to condemn publicly what’s going on by Islamic groups or a Jihadist
group in Syria.
MS. HARF: Well, let’s be clear when we’re talking about the
opposition, to be very clear that what – the violence I’m talking
about is being perpetrated by groups like ISIL, so not the moderate
opposition, not the folks we work with repeatedly and consistently on
things inside Syria. I think that the opposition has been very clear
in condemning extremism and saying they will fight extremism inside
Syria and that that’s something they’re committed to,
absolutely. They’ve said that for many, many months.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: According to reports in Turkey, the Foreign Minister
Mr. Davutoglu planned a provocative act inside Syria so Turkey has the
excuse to invade Syria. Do you want to comment on this?
MS. HARF: Are you referring to an alleged phone conversation?
MS. HARF: As I said yesterday, I don’t have anything for you on
alleged calls or conversations that are out there among Turkish
QUESTION: Yeah, but Mr. Davutoglu –
MS. HARF: It’s not for me to comment.
QUESTION: But Mr. Davutoglu said that the tape is genuine.
MS. HARF: Again, not for me to comment on those allegations that are
out there. Yes, in the back.
The entire transcript of yesterdays U.S. Department of State daily
press briefing is available here.