Fails To Condemn Turkey’s Role In Anti-Armenian Incursion
WASHINGTON—The State Department today announced that it was “deeply troubled” by the recent violence in the historically Armenian populated city of Kessab, Syria, but failed to condemn Turkey’s role in facilitating the attacks by the al-Qaeda affiliated extremist forces, that have forced the Armenian and civilian populations to evacuate the region.
“The ANCA welcomes this initial expression of U.S. Government concern, in the wake of our recent consultations with the State Department, and look forward to these words translating into concrete action in defense of Armenians, all Christians, and other at-risk minorities in Kessab, Aleppo, and throughout Syria,” stated ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. “We remain troubled, however, by the Administration’s silence – in the face of compelling evidence – on Turkey’s role in facilitating the cross-border incursions by extremist forces and look to Secretary Kerry to send a strong message to the Erdogan Administration to end its complicity in these attacks.”
In a statement followed by an question and answer session during the daily State Department press briefing earlier today, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf began, “We are deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is endangering the Armenian community in Kasab, 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.” Harf continued to note, ” 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 complete State Department statement and the relevant question and answer session transcript are provided below.
Just yesterday, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) joined a delegation of Armenian American community and religious representatives to forcefully urge the U.S. government to take immediate action to end the vicious onslaught on Kessab. During the meeting, the community representatives stressed, in urgent and frank terms, that “the United States has a unique responsibility to protect the citizens of Kessab especially since a large proportion of them have American families desperately seeking to provide protection and refuge for them.” The representatives then outlined a series of requests, which are outlined in the ANCA Fact Sheet available here: http://www.anca.org/kessabcrisis.pdf.
Earlier this week, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian sent a strongly worded letter to calling on President Obama to direct his Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, and his Ambassador to the United Nations to demand that Turkey halt the cross-border attacks on Kessab that have forced the immediate civilian evacuation of the area and led to the looting of properties and the desecration of churches.
Over the past week, thousands of Armenian Americans have contacted President Obama and their Senators and Representatives urging immediate condemnation of the attacks against the civilian population of Kessab and, specifically, Turkey’s role in facilitating those attacks.
Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.) have condemned the attacks and urged the State Department to investigate Turkey’s involvement. In a joint letter to President Obama issued earlier today, Congressional Armenian Caucus co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) and Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.227) lead authors David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Adam Schiff, commented on the Kessab attacks, noting ” When coupled with a mass exodus of the Armenian community, these events are far too reminiscent of the early days of the Armenian Genocide, which took place nearly 100 years ago in Ottoman Turkey under the cover of World War I.” The letter goes on to note, “With the Christian Armenian community being uprooted from its homeland, yet again, we strongly urge you to take all necessary measures without delay to safeguard the Christian Armenian community of Kessab. We also believe that now is the time to redouble America’s efforts to ensure that all minority communities at risk in the Middle East are afforded greater protection.”
Located in the northwestern corner of Syria, near the border with Turkey, Kessab had, until very recently, evaded major battles in the Syrian conflict. The local Armenian population had increased in recently years with the city serving as safe-haven for those fleeing from the war-torn cities of Yacubiye, Rakka and Aleppo. On the morning of March 21st, extremist foreign fighters launched a vicious attack on Kessab civilians, forcing them to flee neighboring Latakia and Bassit.
State Department Daily News Briefing
March 28, 2014
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf:
[Questions and Comments Unrelated to Kessab have been omitted – ANCA]
Well, happy Friday, everyone. Welcome to the daily briefing. I have a few items at the top and then we will open it up for questions.
A quick travel update. Today, Secretary Kerry is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with President Obama. He has accompanied President Obama to his meeting with Saudi King Abdullah. I think — I believe it just ended, and there will be more of a readout coming from the road.
Second item at the top. We are deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is endangering the Armenian community in Kasab, 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 Kasab 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.
Regarding this statement that you made about the Syrian Armenians, I was just wondering if you have anything update about the situation. Or just — is this a past tense? Did something happen? Or it’s — I think it’s the ongoing…
It’s an ongoing issue, certainly, that we’re concerned about.
And then, how you…
But there has — as I noted in my statement, that there has been some recent fighting and increase in violence, which is why we wanted to note it specifically today.
So they — because there are some news reports from different sides regarding this issue 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?
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 (ph) 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.
Besides being concerned — because let me be specific about — are you in touch with any of the governments including the Turkish government or other U.N. organization to figure out exactly, because it’s some of their — there is a deportation of people taking place in the last week, which is like starting from last week until now. Anything is going on in that regard?
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.
So you don’t have any — you’re — what — what we have is just like observation of what’s going on, or you have information?
Well, I think we have both.
Right, we’ve seen reports, as I said, recent fighting, violence against the Syrian-Armenian community. 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.
Because, according to some reports that those people were Chabet (ph) and Nusra (ph) people. I’m not sure if you mentioned them in the statement or not?
What I’m talking about is extremist groups like ISIL (ph) 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 in the Syrian conflict, but I was speaking to one specific dynamic.
There is another thing which is (inaudible) about this. When you mentioned the president and he raised the issue with the Pope or the Pope has…
They discussed it.
Maybe, I’m not accurate. Is this issue is raised with the Syrian Opposition people? Because, you know, 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.
Well, let’s be clear when we’re talking about the opposition — have to be very clear that the violence I’m talking about is being perpetrated by groups like ISIL (ph). 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 that they will fight extremism inside Syria and that, that’s something they’re committed to, absolutely. They’ve said that for many, many months.
(inaudible) the foreign minister, Mr. (inaudible), (inaudible) provocated (inaudible) inside Syria so Turkey has the excuse to invade Syria.
Do you want to comment on this?
Are you referring to an alleged phone conversation?
As I said yesterday, I don’t have anything for you on alleged calls or conversations that are out there among Turkish officials.
Yes, but this is…
It’s not for me to comment.
(OFF-MIKE) Mr. (inaudible) said that the tape is genuine.
Again, not for me to comment on those allegations that are out there.