Kessab, Shoushi… the same Struggle ?


The fall of the city of Kessab, at the edges of current Syria or of our Cilicia (it’s a matter of point of view), put all Armenians in a state of shock, all around the world.

Considering the lack of sufficient – or sufficiently trustworthy – information, it is pointless to try to understand what is really going on over there right now.

There is however one certainty : at the moment when these lines are being written, the city is still in the hands of jihadists, who rushed there from various countries, and who are benefitting from the immediate support of Turkey in this spectacular operation.

We fulfilled our duty, and we shall continue to do so, in order to support Kessab and its Armenian population.  As much as possible, that is. Considering that in this instance, we are on particularly… disagreeable grounds, and this time around, not only in Western Diaspora, but even in the Middle-East.

As for Artsakh and Armenia, they have displayed in this matter remarkable concern, a true sense of national unity and solidarity, a real and flawless commitment; the whole, with the same understanding that is motivating and guiding them, in everything that they are already doing and accomplishing, effectively and assiduously, in order to support and to provide assistance to the Armenians of Syria, since the beginning of the hostilities in that country.

This being said – and done -, it would be useful to reflect upon this subject from another perspective.

All things considered, have we, Armenians, failed Kessab ? Should we have, ourselves, defended this ultimate tip of Cilicia, by way of a pan-armenian, combatant mobilization ?

The applicable analogy in this regard would be the initial and crucial phase of the Artsakh war, culminating with the victory of Shoushi. Without which, that Armenian regions could not have been liberated (although not yet integrally).

So, Kessab and Shoushi, same Struggle ?  At least on a short-term basis, if not, for the moment yet, as a final objective…

On the ideological level, the argument is valid. However, it does not resist to the elementary test of reality and facts.

Today, contrary to what the situation was during some past and passed periods of time, the Diaspora does not have any “combatant  forces”.

When the jihadists attacked Kessab with the logistic support of Turkey, the Armenian Diaspora was simply incapable to engage in an armed struggle over there, with the Armenians of Syria at the forefront of such a battle.  As it was done, mutatis mutandis, in Artsakh, in Shoushi.

Regarding specifically the potential for armed struggle of the Armenians of Syria, that was eradicated a very long time ago, with the compliments of the predecessors of the current Assad regime, and with particularly ferocious means and methods.

Whoever would not be in agreement with this presentation of the situation, and thus, would vehemently maintain that no, such assertions are inadmissible!, the Diaspora still holds a real combatant capacity, etc.,   has to be kind enough to answer the following questions : where were in that case the combatant forces of the Diaspora when, after two years of warning signs, an attack and invasions finally happened, with the support of Turkey, on this piece of cilician land ? Why was there only escape and fleeing, without any resistance whatsoever ?  And also, at this moment yet, where are such forces, in the ongoing battles for the liberation of Kessab ?

It is much less painful to acquiesce to the above-stated sober ascertainment about such assumed combatant forces in the Diaspora, then to respond frankly to the aforesaid questions…

As for the theory of an armed intervention from Armenia/Artsakh, it also amounts to superficial romanticism. There are no more active combatants in Armenia and Artsakh – thank God – . There are soldiers, there. There is a national army. Consequently, a military intervention of Armenians in Kessab, in order to fight beside the Syrian army and against forces supported by Turkey, the whole, when serious confrontations are happening continuously on the war fronts of not only Artsakh but also North-Eastern Armenia, and furthermore, in the context of an extreme exacerbation of the Cold War on the Ukrainian front… this is obviously an unthinkable scenario.

But let us go back to the Armenian Diaspora. Being understood that said Diaspora did not hold the means to conduct an actual battle in Kessab, shouldn’t it have organized at least a dignified and orderly evacuation of the city ? Whereas everything we have learned on the subject indicates a state of total confusion in that regard as well, something between approximate panic and an improvised run-for-your-life, resulting notably in the abandonment of the most vulnerable inhabitants at the mercy of the invaders. Thus, two mamigs even found themselves suddenly in Turkey ! And let us not dare to invoke any element of surprise, for Heaven’s sake. This event was certainly foreseeable, it was even highly probable, during the past two years.

But it does not end there, alas… The Diaspora was not only incapable to insure the protection of the Armenians of Kessab, not only it was not even able to organize their escape, but on top of all this, up until this day, the directive of a certain ARF still remains in effect, exhorting the Armenians of Syria to stay in Syria…

This position is not only inadmissible in view of the total helplessness of said party to insure the security of our compatriots at issue, but it also constitutes a blatant violation of its more than a century old ideological foundations, considering that it is telling Armenians to stay and die in Syria (for what ? for whom, exactly… ?), when at the same moment, the Motherland has opened her arms wide, totally desirous and anxious to welcome those same Armenians, to guarantee their collective physical survival, to offer them at least some future.

But it is not too late. The above-mentioned directive may still be reversed, an initial, coherent and authentic instruction may be reinstated, and thus, in conjunction with the Armenian State and the authorities of Artsakh, said party may still devote its structure and resources to an organized, orderly and dignified repatriation of the Armenians of Syria, To Yergir.

We also have to underline here the grave responsibility of Bashar El Assad, towards Armenians. Because that issue is not limited to the aforesaid fact that the regime of which he is the successor in every sense of the word made sure to “tenderize”, to subdue and to quiet down the Armenians of Syria.

Indeed, while it seems now that we have become some kind of objective allies with the shiites and other alawites, let us not forget at least the following realities :

–    regarding today’s “common enemy ” of Armenians and Assad’s Syria, the situation was not that way, not at all, for a long time…;

–    it is the syrian regime at issue that notably forfeited the Sanjak of  Alexandretta, and by doing so, considerably diminished the importance of Kessab with regard to some aspirations of restitution…;  while encouraging, with that same step, the expansionist tendencies of Ankara, by virtue of the “territorial integrity” of “its” Sanjak.  A posture which evokes – however not with equal gravity – the recurring speeches of a certain Aliev regarding Artsakh…

–   Assad father and son also made sure to systematically “dilute”  the native population of Kessab;  (in 1974, in my teenage years, when I arrived for the first time in Kessab, it was still a big village surrounded by several smaller villages, and the whole population of the region was exclusively Armenian; I was therefore stunned, when the first thing I saw arriving at the village was a huge mosque,  deliberately and ostensibly erected at the main entrance of the area;  later on, under the active supervision of the masters of Damascus, the Armenians of Kessab gradually yielded the place to newcomers of other ethnic origins, until we became only some proportion – in continuous erosion – of not only the population, but also of the land and real state owners);

Let us have the courage to mention that we also hold some other responsibility in the situation at hand, considering the physical abandonment of Kessab, by way of continuous emigration, at all times; Armenians were leaving Kessab even during the most quite and secure periods of the Pax Syriana, way before there was any indication of any upcoming trouble. Moreover, there was some tendency to dispose too hastily of ancestral properties. Sorry for this derogation to the internal “political correctness”, but we are comparing here Kessab with Shoushi, nothing less, and it would be therefore unfair towards our compatriots of the Southern Caucasus if we do not point out this notable difference as well between the two situations… Considering the extent and magnitude of adversity the latter had to face and which they endured, notably during the long azeri rule, despite having only insignificant resources for resistance.

In light of all the observations exposed above, we have to realize that the only action at our disposal aimed at saving Kessab is strictly limited to the political level.

It is indeed an obligation of means which we shall undertake, with full determination. But there should not be any illusions, in terms of any concrete results. On one hand, because in an armed conflict of this nature and this amplitude, the ordinary political steps are in any event pointless. On the other hand, because in the case of most of the countries of the Diaspora, the Armenians are banging on the wrong door, namely, the one that belongs to the very people who gladly opened and who are now firmly holding the door from which the jihadists entered triumphantly into Kessab.

Unless – in which case, as wished for by Bashar El Assad also… -, the sector is destined to become a “buffer zone”, Kessab could still be liberated. Well… meaning : it will be returned to Syria.  Having said that, considering the mobilization of Armenians all over the world – specially in the West -, standing up in an unusual movement of unity and coordination in order to try to save Kessab, Bashar El Assad could be tempted to take all his time, before possibly pushing back the invaders  who came from Turkey. That way, he would benefit for a while longer from this special international “lobby”, which is acting indirectly to his advantage, in some countries where he will never be able to set foot in again.

In final analysis, as it is for Artsakh, the faith of Kessab depends also, ultimately, from the way the titanic clash between the West and the East unfolds. More clearly,  it depends on the plans of Vladimir Putin.

And this is, at the end, the only real common point between Kessab and Shoushi. The ultimate destiny of these Armenian lands depend on Moscou.  And not only these lands, by the way…

Which does put us, citizens of Western States of Armenian descent, in a highly problematic situation. To say the least.

Haytoug Shamlian

April  04, 2014