April 3, 2014
By Hagop Koushakjian
The March 21 attack on the historic Armenian coastal town of Kessab was a shock to the Armenian nation worldwide.
Kessab seemed a peaceful, sleepy town far removed from the Syrian civil war that has been raging for the past three years. Then, early on Friday morning, the majority Christian Armenian populated town awoke to the sounds of rockets and gunfire, forcing 670 Armenian families to flee in haste to nearby Latakia, leaving behind the sick and the elderly. From what we know now, the town was attacked by Al-Qaeda related Al-Nusrah Front Islamist terrorists that crossed the Turkish border with the support and approval of the Turkish authorities. Turkey’s role was clearly evidenced by the fact that the Turkish military shot down a Syrian fighter jet that was providing air support to the regime’s forces. The downing emboldened the jihadists to carry out their raid on Kessab Armenians.
So why was Kessab a target and why now?
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s decision on September 3, 2013 to join Russia’s Customs Union instead of the EU Eastern Partnership, after two years of negotiations, was not welcome news to the West. Then the referendum in Crimea to have that region join with Russia was assessed positively by Yerevan, hailing the self-determination right of the regions Russian majority. Then on March 27, the UN General Assembly voted 100 to 11 on a non-binding resolution declaring the Crimean referendum invalid. Armenia, considering the Karabakh factor, was among the 11 nations. In addition, the Republic of Armenia has developed close economic ties with Iran offsetting the 20-year blockades of Turkey and Azerbaijan.
All this was viewed negatively by the West, it appears, prompting US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern to call Armenia’s UN vote “regrettable.” James Warlick, the US representative at the OSCE Minsk Group, also voiced his displeasure for Armenia’s pro-Russian stand vis-à-vis Ukraine. Taken together, this latest move on Crimea seems to have irritated the US. It is as though Armenia has crossed a red line.
On March 29 the US State Department called last week’s unprovoked attack on innocent Armenian civilians “deeply troubling.” Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said, “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.” Interestingly, spokesperson Harf was careful not to use the word “terrorists” when referring to the foreign fighters that attacked Kessab. She referred to them as “groups,” downplaying the terrorist element of the attackers.
The Syrian civil war is ground zero for the latest East vs. West international proxy war and it is well known that NATO member Turkey is providing Al-Qaeda terrorists and other foreign fighters with arms, medical supplies and safe border access to Syria. Which begs the question, is the West calling the shots in Kessab while offering assurances that these jihadist butchers will respect minorities and their holy places of worship?
Kessab is located in the far northwestern part of Syria with no military strategic significance.
Which brings us back to the question, why Kessab, why now? It can easily be argued that Kessab was the price the Armenian nation had to pay for their close ties with Russia and Iran.