Has Turkey attacked Armenians in Syria?
Last week I was in Yayladağı, a district of Hatay in southern Turkey, right on the Turkey-Syria border.
For the last two weeks, clashes have been continuing between the Bashar al-Assad regime and Syrian opposition forces in Kasab, Yayladağı’s neighbor on the other side of the border. Yet violence has crossed the border. Last week a rocket fired from Kasab hit a mosque in Yayladağı.
There have been allegations that the Armenians in Kasab which make up two-thirds of Kasab’s population, are being attacked by the insurgents. These allegations have attracted great attention all over the world, also in popular culture. Kim Kardashian called on her fans through Twitter to save the Armenian community in the town. The international community, especially the Armenian diaspora, argue that Turkey has had a role in the attacks.
First Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu denied this claim. Then officials at the Foreign Ministry who I have spoken to contradicted this argument, saying they even informed the head of the Armenian community and the United Nations that Turkey could help in the evacuation of the Armenians in the region and host them in the country.
Last week two old Armenian women living in Kasab were allowed to seek refuge in Yayladağı. In order to find out more about the allegations, I visited them in Vakıflı village where they reside at the moment. Vakıflı is the only Armenian village in Turkey and its residents are descendants of those Armenians who survived the massacres of 1915. The women said the opposition forces brought them to the Turkey-Syria border upon their request. When I asked the villagers about the allegations, they replied by asking, “Then why would Turkey host and protect us?”
I also visited two refugee camps in Hatay. One of them hosts Turkmens and the other Sunni Arabs. All of the refugees in these two camps left Kasab in 2012. They all argue that the attacks are not specifically targeting the Armenians. They emphasize that all of Syrian society, including the Armenians, are suffering in the ongoing war.
Al-Assad has been trying to depict his regime as a lifesaver against terrorism in Syria to gain the support of the international community. Hence he has been playing the “terrorism card” quite well. It seems that now he is trying to play the “Armenian card.” He had given hints at this when he said in an interview with Agence France-Presse on Jan. 20 that the savagery of the terrorists in Syria reminded him of the massacres perpetrated by the Ottomans when they killed 1.5 million Armenians.
The world is reading the current incidents together with the Armenian massacres. Serzh Sargsyan, president of Armenia, wrote a letter to al-Assad last week thanking him for having protected the Armenian community and blaming Turkey for the attacks. He also asked European countries to pressure Turkey on this matter.
Armenians who survived the massacres and took refuge in Hatay and Kasab are now united in Turkey. That Turkey opens its door to everyone of any religion and ethnicity is of high importance. The radical change in Turkey’s attitude toward minorities is also crucial. And to demonstrate this change to Armenians and the international community with greater steps is one of the most important tasks for the future.