Syrian Armenians Flee As Al-Nusra Front Enters Kasab


April 17 2014

2014-04-16 By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Mother of three Armig Tanilian said she had not believed the fires
of the Syrian war would spread to her hometown of Kasab in rural
Latakia province.

But three weeks ago, Tanilian and her family were forced to flee Kasab
along with hundreds of other ethnic Armenians when al-Nusra Front
(ANF) and Islamist opposition fighters overran the strategic town,
located in a mountainous area on the border with Turkey.

Fierce fighting between opposition and regime forces in Kasab forced
many residents to leave for Latakia city, Ras al-Basseet and other
coastal cities in a hurry, some still in their sleeping garments,
residents told Al-Shorfa.

“I woke early and went into the kitchen to prepare the rest of the
sweet dishes ahead of celebrating Mother’s Day with my sisters-in-law,”
Tanilian said. “It was 6 a.m. when we began to hear the sound of
shelling very close to our house. My 10-year-old son woke terrified,
and we found ourselves targeted by shells and bullets.”

Tanilian and her neighbours decided to leave immediately, she said,
heading to Latakia city in her husband’s truck amid a large convoy
of vehicles, while others travelled on foot.

Tanilian later left Latakia for Lebanon with her three children and
mother-in-law, she said.

The Rev. Nareg Luisian of the Mar Mikhael Armenian Catholic parish in
Latakia told Al-Shorfa he woke at 5:30 a.m. when the attack on Kasab
began. He said he heard the sound of bullets over the parish house,
then a loud explosion at a nearby police station.

“I then witnessed an attack by ANF fighters, Chechens and Iraqis
[identifiable by their accent] with long black beards and black scarfs
covering their heads,” he said.

“We did not wait long before leaving Kasab because the shelling was
intense and concentrated, targeting neighbourhoods and homes,” the
priest said. “About 1,500 of us evacuated to Latakia.”

Luisian said he is now aiding displaced Kasab residents who are
sheltering at Latakia’s Armenian Orthodox Church.

“We do not know what happened to the [residents’] properties,” he
said. “All that we know, we have gleaned from YouTube videos posted
by ANF, one of which showed our church stripped of anything related
to the manifestations of Christianity.”

Kasab residents had not expected ANF and foreign fighters to reach
the town, Luisian said.

ANF seeks to impose its own agenda

“We do not know what they want by getting involved in a war that is
not theirs, but their goals, which became clear in more than one area
of Syria, do not converge with the goals of the people’s revolution,”
he said.

In attacking Kasab, it appears ANF is trying to clear the border strip
with Turkey that extends from Kasab through Aleppo and into north
eastern Syria, including the town of Markada in al-Hasakeh province,
said Lebanese political analyst Tony Issa.

“In doing so, ANF, which inserted itself into the Syrian revolution
with principles that are inconsistent with the principles of Islam,
and which fights using local and foreign elements, would clear the
areas of their original inhabitants and base itself there as extremist
Islamist groups,” he told Al-Shorfa.

“The war ANF is waging in Kasab and other Syrian towns is fundamentally
inconsistent with the objectives of the Syrian revolution,” he
said. “It is fighting a war that is not its war in order to impose
its extremist fundamentalist rules and principles.”

Kasab lies on the slopes of Jabal al-Aqraa, 65 kilometres from Latakia
and three kilometres from the border with Turkey. The majority of its
inhabitants are ethnic Armenians who work in agriculture and tourism.