ISTANBUL (Today’sZaman) — Turkey’s Armenian community has criticized Ankara’s indifference towards Armenians from Syria’s Kessab region fleeing from the war-torn country and seeking shelter in Turkey, also bringing attention to the inadequacy of Turkish-Armenian associations, including the Armenian Patriarchate, in helping Kessab Armenians settle in Turkey.
The Turkish-Armenian community came together on Saturday in a conference to discuss the problems of Kessab Armenians, whose predicament appeared in the Turkish media earlier in April when two Armenian sisters from Kessab, Satenik (82) and Surpuhi (80) Titizyan, arrived in Yayladagi after being escorted by Syrian rebels to the Turkish-Syrian border. They were offered refuge in Vakifli village, the only Armenian village in Turkey.
Kessab is located on the Mediterranean coast of northern Syria, close to the border with Turkey. Having been populated by Armenians for centuries, Kessab is a town with a Christian population in a country with a majority Islamic population. As the Syrian civil war continues, some areas of the country have been taken over by extremist and Islamist militants.
“The Titizyan sisters were not brought to Turkey, they were kidnapped and taken to Turkey,” said Aris Nalci, a Turkish-Armenian journalist from IMC TV during an event held about the life of Kessab Armenians in Vakifli village on Saturday.
Before the Titizyan sisters came to Turkey, there were reportedly 30 people living in Kessab. On May 5, 19 more ethnic Armenians from Syria, most of them elderly and on wheelchairs, joined the Titizyan sisters in Vakifli. After most moved on to Lebanon, there are now only six Kessab Armenians left in Vakifli. An old man who was also planning to leave for Lebanon died of a heart attack in Vakifli and was buried there.
“They were people in the depths of despair,” said an old Armenian resident from Vakifli, sharing his experiences and impressions. “It was a very emotional moment for me when I heard them murmuring to each other that they were among Armenians after they noticed we were all speaking Armenian,” the old man said.
Ankara had said in April that Turkey’s doors are “wide open” to the largely Armenian residents of the Kessab region of Syria, which is under the threat of clashes between Syrian rebel forces.
Turkey has been criticized by Armenians worldwide for providing assistance to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups who are killing Armenians in Syria. Dismissing the criticisms, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has argued against what he called the “wrong image of Turkey,” adding that the country’s doors are wide open for Armenians living in Kessab.
He also said Turkey has made official statements about the case of Kessab Armenians since the beginning of the clashes near Kessab and has informed the acting Armenian patriarch and other minority leaders in Turkey about the incidents.
“The tragedy of Kessab Armenians was covered in the Turkish media with the headline that Turkey was embracing Armenians, although this is not true,” said Nalci, adding that Armenia was also unable to assist Kessab Armenians.
“Armenia could not accommodate the Syrian Armenians. ‘Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI)-style buildings will be given to you,’ Armenia said, just as Turkey is doing. Although none of the Syrian families would be able to stay in those conditions, some decided to remain in Armenia. Even we [Turkish-Armenians] were not able to offer assistance,” Nalci said.
Another commentator, Alin Özinian, who is a press secretary at the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council and a news editor at the Yerevan-based CivilNet, challenged the Turkish government, asking Ankara why there are no longer any Armenians in Kessab.
“Why was Kessab emptied? Why couldn’t Turkey protect and preserve Kessab?” were the main questions given in response to a question by Today’s Zaman asking what the main expectations of Turkish-Armenians were during the attack of Kessab.
Echoing Nalci’s comment, Harut Özer, a representative from the Platform for Thought, said in his comment however that it was not only Ankara but also the heads of the Armenian community who are also responsible for the problems experienced by ethnic Armenians, including those from Kessab, in Turkey.
“Why are we blaming the Turkish government when Turkish-Armenians did not do much to provide help? What solutions are we producing among ourselves that we are instead extending our demands to the state? What did our hospitals and foundations do?” Özer asked, adding that Turkish-Armenians needed to demonstrate real unity and community spirit to embrace those Armenians from Syria “instead of turning to the Armenian Patriarchate for every little piece of help.”
Özer claimed the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey follows the line of the Turkish state instead of supporting its community. “We need to justify our existence and stop the decline of our population. In order to do so, the Turkish-Armenian authorities should change their mindset.”