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U.S. State Department “Deeply Troubled” by Attacks Against Armenians in Kessab, Syria

 

State-Department

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 Syria today.

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 further.

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 northwestern 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 Armenians?

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 about.

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 – are you in touch with any of the governments, including the Turkey – Turkish Government or other UN organization to figure out exactly – 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 – 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 – 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?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: As I said yesterday, I don’t have anything for you on alleged calls or conversations that are out there among Turkish officials.

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.

This story originally appeared on AAANewsBlog

Armenian-Americans at RNC 2012: Support Mitt Romney for President

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor

The Tampa Bay Times Forum, Home of RNC 2012

Every four years, the campaign for the highest office of the land takes place. As candidates from the Republican Party navigated the choppy waters of the primary storm this election season, one man sailed to victory: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Winning the party’s nomination was no easy feat and on several occasions, the media and members of his own party, were quick to write him off. However, Mitt Romney and his campaign rose to the challenge, and secured the 1,190 Republican Party Delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. No doubt, the battles he faced in the primary contest will come in handy when he goes head-to-head with President Obama.

Among these Republican Party Delegates, who are elected within their respective state party systems, were six Armenian-Americans. The States of Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island were each represented by an official GOP Delegate of Armenian descent.

Harout Samra, an attorney in Miami said, “it was a privilege to attend the Republican National Convention as a delegate for Florida. Coming to the floor of the Convention hall for the first time was very exciting. Frankly, I did not expect to be as moved as I was. It was a great honor to have been selected to represent my fellow Floridians. That came home to me as I reached the floor. I genuinely enjoy interacting with people from different backgrounds. The United States is a remarkably diverse place, and I believe this diversity was represented not only in our delegation, but also in those of the other states. Florida’s delegation included first-generation Americans, such as myself, and longtime natives. It included Indian-Americans, Cuban-Americans, and even one Armenian-American.

Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Harout Samra

“Governor Romney knows and understands the issues that are important to Armenian-Americans. Living in Belmont and serving as the Governor of Massachusetts, he’s had more important contacts and relationships with the Armenian-American community than any President since Ronald Reagan. He will not mislead us and pander to us to get Armenian-American votes like President Obama.

“Governor Romney is the right man for the moment. He understands how to turn around the economy at home and to ensure that America is respected abroad. Unlike President Obama, Governor Romney’s top priority will be to create an environment that leads to more jobs and spurs economic growth,” stated Samra.

Another Republican Party Delegate, Bob Semonian, State Chairman of Massachusetts Republican Party-Ethnic Outreach expressed that he was “thrilled to attend the Republican National Convention in Tampa this year. Americans want honesty in the White House and Mitt Romney is an honest man who will best represent all of America,” stated Semonian, who also serves as the Armenian-Americans for Mitt Romney Coalition Massachusetts State Chair.

Bob Semonian with Josh Romney

From the Great Lakes State was Krista Haroutunian, who serves as the Republican Party Chair for the 13th Congressional District. She stated, “My time at the 2012 RNC was extremely important and made me proud to be American, an Armenian, and from Detroit, Michigan.” Haroutunian continued, “The first concern of an American, of whatever cultural or ethnic background, is the independence, freedom, and well-being of Americans. This allows us to be able to express concerns for Armenian issues and to assist appropriately.

“Mr. Romney knows that the founding fathers of America had great concerns about dictatorial attitudes and insisted upon a separation of powers – something Mr. Obama has side-stepped for the better part of four years. Mr. Romney wants to return to a Constitutional government through our elected Representatives. Mr. Obama wants all-pervasive government with the decision makers being unelected bureaucrats.

“The choice is clear – constitutional guarantees and responsibilities to preserve the rule of law versus arbitrary actions from a few with no guarantees of the rule of law. For all Armenians and all Americans, Mitt Romney is the best choice.”

Over the course of this year, several Armenian-Americans across the country, including the author, have been challenged on our position of supporting Governor Romney over President Obama. “What do you expect from Romney that will be different from Obama,” is the common intrigue.  To put it plainly, like all Americans, we expect leadership, honesty and values from our elected officials. When it comes to Armenian issues, President Obama failed to fulfill his campaign pledge to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide as President. That calls into question his honesty. President Obama’s nomination and subsequent recess appointment of Matthew Bryza to serve as Ambassador to Azerbaijan was opposed by Senators of his own party, not to mention many Armenian-Americans. That calls into question his ability to lead. And the silence of the Obama administration on the destruction, confiscation and profiteering of Christian Armenian religious properties by the Turkish Government, as well as Azerbaijan’s completed destruction of centuries-old Armenian Khachkars at Julfa, call into question his values.

From Fresno to Philadelphia, from Manchester to Miami, from Detroit to Denver, from Waukesha to Washington, DC, Armenian-Americans have expressed their frustration with President Obama, and many former Armenian supporters of his are now backing Mitt Romney for President. In fact, one prominent Armenian-American who supported President Obama in 2008, and is now backing Governor Romney, expressed as much to the author. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she shared her frustration: “Senator Obama chose to promise, in campaign speeches and written outreach, recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks. He fully understood the importance of that issue to the Armenian American community and indeed to all right thinking Americans.  Americans deserve a President who knows his principles and makes his decisions in accordance with those principles. Americans deserve a President who has integrity. So why come November would I vote for a President who over the course of four years has delivered precious little and lied to us and other communities?”

Indeed, why would we? She then confessed, “I’ll take a chance on Romney.”

This article originally appeared in the October 13, Volume 13 Print Edition of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.