45 Days in Hell: Syrian Armenians Kidnapped and Tortured by FSA

We were held captive for 45 days. You cannot even begin to imagine the terror we endured during those hellish days.’

–Carlo Hatsarkorzian


Special for the Armenian Weekly

In October 2013, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report titled “You Can Still See Their Blood” that documented the atrocities committed by extremist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, against civilians in Latakia, Syria.[1]

In response to the report, the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) “wholeheartedly condemned” the crimes and reiterated its “full commitment to respecting the rule of law.” The SMC “stressed that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Izz, and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar are not part of the SMC command structure and do not represent the values of the FSA or the Syrian revolution.”[2]

Three months earlier, on July 26, 2013, the Free Syrian Army had kidnapped seven Syrian Armenians (four men and three women) while they were leaving Aleppo to resettle in Yerevan, Armenia. The women were released within the first 10 hours, while the men were incarcerated for 45 days.

This report documents the experience of those four men according to the first-hand accounts of Carlo Hatsarkorzian and Sako Assadourian.

The conundrum: ‘good rebels’ vs ‘bad rebels’

Over the past two years, Western politicians with vested interests in the outcome of the Syrian conflict and the ousting of the Assad regime have asserted the notion of “good rebels” versus “bad rebels.” These policymakers affirm that the good rebels consist of battalions fighting under the command of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army to bring justice, freedom, and democracy to the Syrian people, whereas the bad rebels are jihadists seeking the creation of an Islamic Caliphate across the MENA region.

The primary purpose of classifying the Syrian rebels into two principal categories—the good and bad—is to legitimize and justify any political, military, and financial support provided by the Western governments and their regional allies to the “good rebels” of Syria.

On Sept. 2, 2013, while the four Armenians were being tortured by the FSA, President Barack Obama had a private meeting with U.S. Senator John McCain to discuss the potential for an intervention in Syria and the possibilities of arming the “good rebels”—that is, the Free Syrian Army.[3]

“He [Obama] said that he was willing to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army,” McCain stated in an interview with the Daily Beast. “For the first time we have an outline of action that could lead to the removal of Bashar al-Assad… I’m certainly willing to join that effort, but I need to know a lot of the details.”[4]

The rhetoric used by these policy makers has influenced the mainstream media’s coverage of the ongoing conflict. The vast majority of media sources have been quick to overlook the crimes of the FSA and have instead focused on the crimes perpetrated by the Syrian government and the “bad rebels”—the jihadists.

Moreover, international human rights groups have failed to properly document the plight of the minority groups in Syria. Whether or not this failure stems from the fact that the vast majority of these groups either support Assad’s regime or fear persecution in the absence of his secular government is up for debate. But one thing is certain—without the adequate documentation and condemnation of the human rights violations against all Syrians, including minorities, the cycle of crime will continue.



In late July 2012, the armed conflict arrived in Aleppo, changing the destiny of Syrian Armenians forever. Prior to the beginning of the conflict, Carlo Hatsarkorzian, 21, worked as a mechanic at his family’s workshop in the Argoub district of Aleppo, and Sako Assadourian, 27, as a goldsmith. They both came from lower-middle class families.

In September 2012, rebels took over the neighborhood forcing the Hatsarkorzians to close their workshop. Carlo moved to Armenia, where he started working as a construction worker for 3,000 AMDs ($7.50) per day.[5]

In December, Carlo booked a round-trip flight to Aleppo to visit his family for the New Year. He never made the return flight because the Aleppo International Airport was shut down in early January. He’d remain in Aleppo until that life-defining journey in July 2013.[6]

In June 2013, Sako, a former Syrian Arab Army soldier, received a notice demanding his return to the army. His mother, Siranoush, begged Sako to leave the country and to join his brother in Yerevan.[7]

By late July, Carlo, Sako, Garo Boboghlian, and Nareg Varjabedian, along with three Armenian women, decided to leave Aleppo for Yerevan. What followed would haunt them for years to come.


A journey to hell


In the morning of July 26, the seven Armenians got on a bus headed towards the Bab al-Hawa border point with Turkey. By 11 a.m., the bus had stopped at an FSA checkpoint near what is known as the Maabar al-Mawt (the Corridor of Death) in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood of Aleppo.

“At the checkpoint, the FSA soldiers requested our documentation,” Sako told the Armenian Weekly. “When they realized that we were Armenians, they transferred us to their headquarters.” Later that evening, at around 6:30 p.m., the women were released and sent off to Turkey, while the FSA comrades gave a warm “welcome” to the four Armenian men.

“They forced us to kneel down and say the Lord’s Prayer [Derounagan aghotk in Armenian], while a dozen of their soldiers beat us up until we all started bleeding,” said Carlo. “They hit us with their hands, feet, and anything they could find.”

The abuse was both physical and psychological. While being tortured physically, the four men were subject to verbal abuse, threats, and dehumanization. “You [the Armenians] are all traitors! You are the kafirs [infidels] who support Assad! We will kill you tomorrow!”

The headquarters

In the town of Hraytan, the Free Syrian Army headquarter consisted of a deserted liquor warehouse and a villa positioned across the street. Over the course of those 45 days, the four men were placed in 3 different cells.[8]

At the compound, the majority of the FSA soldiers did not use their official names when communicating with each other; instead they addressed one another using “Abu Ahmad” or “Abu Mohammad,” meaning “the father of Ahmad” or “the father of Mohammad” in Arabic.[9]

The chain of command at this particular base was divided into two branches: religious and military. The head of the religious branch was the Sheikh, the holy leader who was vested by Sharia law and whose verdicts were conclusive. The military command was in the hands of “Abu Ali,” a defector from the Military Intelligence Directorate of Syria, the “Mukhabarat.”[10]

Ironically, prior to the FSA takeover of the Hraytan region, the buildings where the four Armenians were held captive belonged to a Syrian-Armenian family that imported the Efes brand of Turkish beer.

Following the takeover, the Free Syrian Army upgraded the Chaprazian family properties, investing heavily in transforming the warehouse and villa into a high-security concentration camp from which no prisoner could escape.

Unfortunately for the FSA, not too long after the release of the four Armenians, the “bad rebels” of Syria—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)—took over the Hraytan region and, along with it, the FSA headquarters.[11]

The snapshots included in this piece are cropped from a video prepared by the ISIS militants and published by the pro-regime news agency Syriantube.net. The video demonstrates the various torture methods used by the FSA and the locations of the warehouse and villa. Both Armenian interviewees, Sako and Carlo, confirmed that the video recording is from the site of their captivity, and the torture techniques demonstrated therein correspond to what they experienced.

The first 23 days

After they were beaten on the first day, the four men were taken to prison cell no. 1 in the warehouse, where they were kept for six days. They were subjected to numerous verbal abuses but no physical torture.[12]

A snapshot of prison cell no. 1 at the FSA headquarters. © 2014 SYRIANTUBE.NET

In prison cell no. 1, they were accompanied by FSA soldiers convicted by their own military tribunal, for crimes such as theft and “illegal murder.” On average, the FSA soldiers were kept imprisoned for 30 days, and then released, to continue their battles against the Assad regime. On July 27, one day after the abduction of the four Armenians, an Arab Christian was also brought in to prison cell no. 1.[13]

During those initial six days, Abu Ali and his comrades systematically harassed the men and blackmailed them. “Who the hell are you? Everyone is talking about you. Everyone is pressuring us to release you,” he said. “Unless the Syrian-Armenian community is able to convince the Syrian Army to remove its military check-points near the Meedan neighborhood in Aleppo, we will kill you.”[14]

“They did not understand that the Syrian-Armenian community has no leverage over the Syrian Army,” explained Sako. “They didn’t accept the fact that our lives were worth nothing in the grand scheme of this conflict.”


Following the first six days, the four men were transferred to solitary confinement—to prison cell no. 2—where they were left without water and food for around two days.[15]

On the third day, Abu Ali opened the gate, stepped into the underground cell, and shouted, “Are you still alive?” The men were dehydrated. They didn’t have the energy to respond.[16]

Abu Ali asked, “Do you want water?” They pleadingly said, “Yes.” One of the soldiers accompanying Abu Ali went away for a few seconds and returned with a bottle of water. After the four men finished drinking, Abu Ali sardonically said, “That was the water from the swimming pool!”[17]

“The swimming pool is where the FSA soldiers used to swim and urinate,” Carlo said. “We had no choice but to drink. It was urine or death.”

Cell no. 2 was located in the basement of the villa. It was a dark locker room consisting of two small rooms and a narrow hallway. Each room could fit one person at a time. The four Armenians established a rotation system, where two of them would sleep on the concrete floor of the rooms, while the other two would sit in the narrow hallway. This was their life for 17 dark days.[18]

On the 24th day of their journey, the four Armenians were transferred back to the warehouse, to prison cell no. 3, also known as “the party room.” The men thought that the worst was behind them.[19]


Interrogation (a conversation with the Sheikh)

That morning, the Sheikh summoned the four men to an interrogation session. “You Armenians are civilians,” he told them. “We are in a war against the Alawites, against Assad’s Army. Why did the Armenians pick up arms against us, against the Sunnis? Why are you supporting Assad?”[20]

As Sako recalls the conversation with the Sheikh, he subconsciously switches to Arabic. “No. We are not supporting Assad. The Armenians who picked up arms are stationed in their own neighborhoods to defend the Armenian population.”

The Sheikh disagreed. “No, the Armenians are against us. The FSA constantly tried to penetrate the Meedan neighborhood, but the Armenians were stationed at the army’s checkpoint and fought against us. The Armenians are like the Alawites.”

Sako reluctantly disagreed, “Honorable Sheikh. We are not like the Alawites. After the genocide, when the Armenians arrived to Syria, it was the Sunnis who took us in. We lived together in peace and harmony long before the Baath Party came to power.”

After a moment of silence, the Sheikh asked, “Are you a supporter of Assad or are you against his regime?”

Sako responded, “I am against the regime.”

“You are a liar.”

Sako continued, “I am not lying my Sheikh. I am against the regime. Every Syrian citizen is against the regime, against the corruption of the government. But there is a difference between civil disobedience and a violent destructive war. Every Syrian wanted reform, but we don’t want the country to be destroyed in the process.”

The Balanko was a steel chain that hung from the ceiling with a hook at the end. It is customarily used to offload or unload heavy shipments. In this instance, the shipments were the four Armenians.

The Sheikh angrily replied, “No. You are a liar. All of you are against us. The Kurds, the Druze, the Christians, the Armenians, the Shiite, and the Alawites are all against the Sunnis. We are going to teach you all a lesson.”

Sako responded, “Dear Sheikh, the Armenians are different. The Druze and the Shiites had weapons long before this conflict. The Armenians are civilians. They never had weapons, they only picked up arms to defend their own neighborhoods.”

The Sheikh disagreed. “If you didn’t want to get involved in this conflict, you should have gone to your country, Armenia. But you didn’t. Your archbishop is with the government. Every Armenian is with the government. Where did the Armenians get their weapons form? Didn’t you get them from Assad’s army? Aren’t you using it against the FSA?” Sako replied, hopelessly, “I don’t know. I did not pick up arms. I don’t know.”

The Sheikh opened his laptop and retrieved some files. He showed pictures of “Armenians carrying weapons in Aleppo.” The Sheikh asked, “Who is this guy?” The four men replied, “We don’t know.”

As he flipped through the pictures, the Sheikh furiously asked, “Isn’t this George? Isn’t this Daron? You all know each other. You are lying to me. Tonight you will enjoy the party.” The livid Sheikh sent the men back to their prison cell.

The FSA had extensive records on the Syrian Armenians who they alleged had carried arms. They had personal information including names, addresses, and pictures.[21]


That evening, a few FSA soldiers, who appeared to be under the influence of narcotics, entered the room and asked the men to stand up and follow them. One of the Armenians said, “Are you going to release us?”

“No. We are taking you to the party.”[22]

When the four Armenians walked out of the prison cell, the FSA soldiers began to attack them: striking, punching, slapping, pushing, pulling, kneeing, and kicking. Winded and humbled, the men were hauled across the hall and placed near the Balanko. “You will like this game,” said one of the soldiers.[23]

The Balanko was a steel chain that hung from the ceiling with a hook at the end. It is customarily used to offload or unload heavy shipments. In this instance, the shipments were the four Armenians.

“He brought pliers and ordered the other soldiers to pin me down,” said Sako. “He denailed my left toe. I actually did not feel a thing. My body was too numb from all the beating and electric shocks.”

“They lowered the Balanko to the ground. One of the soldiers brought a rope, tied my bare feet together, and my hands behind my back,” Sako recalled. “After connecting the hook to the rope, they gradually lifted me up until I was one meter above the ground. I was hanging upside-down. They started slapping me. I swung like a pendulum.”

A snapshot of the ‘Balanko.’ © 2014 SYRIANTUBE.NET
A snapshot of the ‘Balanko.’ © 2014 SYRIANTUBE.NET

“After a few minutes, one of the soldiers grabbed an iron rod and started pounding my lower body,” said Sako. “Then another soldier grabbed an electrical wire and started hitting the bottom of my bare feet. The pain was excruciating.”

The four Armenians took turns riding the Balanko. While they were being tortured, the soldiers continued to hurl verbal abuses and swear words. “The blasphemies ranged from Bashar al-Assad to the Armenians and even the Virgin Mary,” said Carlo.

Following the Balanko, the four men had no energy to stand. They crawled back to their prison cell, while the FSA soldiers continued to kick them.

The next day, the process was repeated. But this time, while the men were hanging from the Balanko, the FSA soldiers called the families of the prisoners on the phone. “They placed a gun to my head and told me to repeat their words in Arabic,” said Carlo. “They told me that if I used a single Armenian word, they would shoot me.”

While Sako was hanging from the Balanko, Carlo was on the phone with Sako’s relatives. “I told Sako’s aunt exactly what the FSA soldiers were telling me. Initially, they asked for a ransom,” said Carlo. “They wanted our families to hear our pleas while we were being tortured.”

Sako ended up speaking with Carlo’s parents and asking them for a ransom of 10,000,000 SYP (around $60,000 at the time). Garo and Nareg spoke to their respective families. Each family was told to pay that sum in exchange for their son’s release.[24]

Abu Ali replied, “If your parents don’t pay the ransom, then you are going to enjoy the Balanko party for a long time. Your life belongs to us now. You are going to wish you were dead. You are going to beg us to kill you, but we won’t. You’re going to live through this hell forever.”

The next day, the Balanko ride became more violent, as the soldiers began hitting the prisoners’ upper body. “After the ride was completed, they brought an electric wire, connected it to our feet, and electrocuted us,” said Sako.

A snapshot of the ‘Balanko.’ © 2014 SYRIANTUBE.NET
A snapshot of the ‘Balanko.’ © 2014 SYRIANTUBE.NET

While Sako was being electrocuted, one of the FSA soldiers realized that Sako’s toenail was coming off from the extensive beating he had received. “Let me put you out of your misery; I will remove that nail for you,” the soldier told Sako.[25]

“He brought pliers and ordered the other soldiers to pin me down,” said Sako. “He denailed my left toe. I actually did not feel a thing. My body was too numb from all the beating and electric shocks.”

At the end of that day, Abu Ali informed the four men that they should expect the torture “party” to continue until their families paid the ransom.

Exhausted from the beatings, electric shocks, and the denailing, Sako pleaded, “My parents are poor. They can’t pay you the ransom. If you are not going to let me go, why don’t you just kill me?”

“We knew very well where the mortar bombs were heading,” said Sako. “We were helping the FSA in its assault against the Armenian neighborhoods. But we had no choice. It was either compliance, Balanko, or death.”

Abu Ali replied, “If your parents don’t pay the ransom, then you are going to enjoy the Balanko party for a long time. Your life belongs to us now. You are going to wish you were dead. You are going to beg us to kill you, but we won’t. You’re going to live through this hell forever.”

Torture at the FSA headquarters © 2014 SYRIANTUBE.NET
Torture at the FSA headquarters © 2014 SYRIANTUBE.NET

In the early hours of the next morning, a Kurdish rebel group, likely affiliated with the Popular Protection Units (YPG), launched an offensive on the FSA checkpoints near the compound. By the afternoon, the FSA soldiers had captured a few Kurdish rebels and transferred them to their headquarters. To make room for the new prisoners, the four Armenian men were transferred back to prison cell no. 1.[26]

“Thanks to the Kurdish offensive we were spared the Balanko ride and the electric shocks. After that point, we were mere observers. We watched the Kurdish rebels get tortured by the hands of the FSA,” said Carlo.

Prison labor

The Kurdish offensive came on the 27th day of the Armenians’ captivity. After that, the four men were no longer tortured physically, although the verbal abuse continued up until their release.

The FSA implemented its prison labor policy by forcing the four Armenians to assist with their everyday work. “We were forced to clean the bathrooms of the soldiers, the FSA offices, and the bedrooms located in the villa,” recalled Carlo. “We also worked as carriers, transferring the shipments that arrived at the headquarters.”

The FSA headquarters received empty gas tanks on a regular basis. The Armenians off loaded the tanks and transferred them to the production room. There, the gas tanks were transformed into ammunition for the FSA’s mortar bombs.[27]

Over the past three years, the Syrian opposition has used mortar bombs on a consistant basis. In recent weeks, more than 80 mortar bombs were launched against the predominantly Armenian neighborhoods of Meedan and Sulaymaniyah in Aleppo. These assaults have resulted in the death of numerous Armenians and the destruction of Armenian churches, schools, and homes.

This was not lost on the FSA soldiers, who continuously reminded the four men that they were aiding in the murder of fellow Armenians. “Today we are going to attack the Meedan, Sulaymaniyah, and Azizieh neighborhoods. Thank you for your assistance guys,” said Abu Ali sarcastically.[28]

“We knew very well where the mortar bombs were heading,” said Sako. “We were helping the FSA in its assault against the Armenian neighborhoods. But we had no choice. It was either compliance, Balanko, or death.”

The Quran

In the last 18 days of their captivity, the four men were forced to learn the Quran. When they were transferred to prison cell no. 1, the Sheikh had told them, “Every day you are going to learn verses from the Quran and every night you will be tested. If you make a mistake you will be sent to the Balanko.”

“They forced us to pray with their soldiers,” said Carlo. “We asked some of the Kurdish prisoners who were accompanying us in the prison cell to teach us the Quran and the proper ways of prayer.”

“Every night, the FSA soldiers used to examine us,” said Sako. “We were good students. We learned the verses very well. We could not afford to make a mistake. Fearing the Balanko, we learned and prayed with the soldiers like proper Muslims.”

The Facebook message from within

On Sept. 1, 2013, the 37th day of captivity, an FSA officer entered the prison cell and asked, “Is there anyone who understands computers?”

A snapshot of Carlo’s Facebook post on his own timeline.
A snapshot of Carlo’s Facebook post on his own timeline.

Carlo volunteered. “I volunteered because I wanted to go out of the warehouse. The officer took me to the FSA office located in the villa. He wanted me to download some programs. Based on his demands, I realized that he didn’t understand a thing from computers.”

Carlo told the officer that he needed some time to surf the web in order to locate a free-of-charge downloading option. As he was surfing the web, the officer received a phone call, stood up, and walked out of the office. Carlo logged onto his Facebook account, and posted a pleading message on his wall. The message stated, in Armenian, “please get us out of here as soon as possible… let the Prelacy give money so we can get out of here sooner rather than later … plzzzzzzzzzzzz” (hagetsek mezi hosge hanel vargian m arach.. arashnortarane togh tram da vor shoudov yellenk hosge … plzzzzzzzzzzzz).

‘Freedom’ in Syria:

On Sept. 9, 2013 Narek Varjabedian was released by the FSA, after his family had managed to pay the ransom. The amount was less than the initial sum demanded by the FSA.

As mentioned earlier, Carlo and Sako came from lower middle-class families. Due to their family’s financial limitations, their release was postponed. Carlo’s mother sold her jewelry to conjure up a small amount of money for her son.

When Carlo’s father realized that Sako’s family was unable to pay for their son’s release, he asked community members to donate. They did. On Sept. 10, 2013 a day after Narek was released, Carlo Hatsarkorzian, Sako Assadourian, and Garo Boboghlian were released and sent back to Aleppo.

My aunt told me to sit down. My relatives handed me a glass of water and told me, “Fifteen days after your kidnapping, your father had a heart attack. He passed away. I’m sorry.”

When Sako finally arrived at his aunt’s house, he was greeted with a subdued welcome. “After a few minutes I realized that my father and mother were not around,” said Sako. “Everyone was wearing black. I asked my aunt, ‘Where is my father? Where is my mother?’”

My aunt told me to sit down. My relatives handed me a glass of water and told me, “Fifteen days after your kidnapping, your father had a heart attack. He passed away. I’m sorry.”

“When I heard that my father had passed away, I lost control of myself,” Sako told the Weekly, with tears in his eyes. “I started banging my head to the wall. I kept repeating, I wish I had died in that prison. I wish I had not come out to hear this news.”

On the day of his release, Sako’s mother, who suffered from mental health issues, had flown from Beirut to Yerevan. She had lost all hope of seeing Sako again, and had gone to Yerevan to be reunited with her younger son, Anto.[29]

In the meantime, Carlo was struggling to cope with his newfound “freedom.” With Aleppo under heavy bombardment, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and kept dreaming that he was still a prisoner at the FSA headquarters. “I used to wake up in the middle of the night and start crying,” said Carlo. “My parents told me that I had to leave Aleppo and return to Armenia. I did.”

Carlo was struggling to cope with his newfound “freedom.” With Aleppo under heavy bombardment, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and kept dreaming that he was still a prisoner at the FSA headquarters.

Not long after, Sako was offered an escape route as well. To cover his transportation costs, Sako borrowed $200 from a friend and left. “Initially I was hesitant to leave Aleppo. I kept thinking to myself, ‘What if I am captured again?’” recalled Sako. “But eventually, I took a few tranquilizers and set off to Armenia.”

Life in Armenia

For more than two months following his arrival in Yerevan, Sako was unable to seek employment; his mother’s psychological condition had deteriorated, and she was admitted to the Avan Mental Hospital.

After her condition gradually stabilized and she returned home, Sako started working as a construction worker. Not long after, Sako’s younger brother decided to leave his family, saying he could no longer withstand the depressing environment of their household.

Siranoush (Photo by Sako Assadourian)
Siranoush (Photo by Sako Assadourian)

“It’s been more than five months since my brother left us,” Sako said. “Until today we do not know about his whereabouts. Initially I believed him: I thought that we were depressing him. But a few weeks after his departure, I found out that my brother had accumulated $750 worth of phone bill debts. That was his parting gift for me.”

Now, Sako is living in a one-bedroom apartment with his mother and cousin. He makes approximately $250 (100,000 AMD) per month and pays $125 (50,000 AMD) in rent. Between the debt left behind by his brother, the monthly utility fees, and the accumulated rent, Sako felt lost. His landlord, who had been considerate enough to grant the family a grace period on the rental payments, ultimately grew tired of waiting and requested his money.

In recent months, the Aleppo Compatriotic Charitable Organization (ACCO), which assists refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in both Armenia and Syria, has provided rental subsidies to Sako’s family. The ACCO also referred Sako’s case to the Caritas Foundation in Armenia, which in turn has paid off some of the accumulated debt. But Sako and his family continue to struggle in Armenia.

Carlo has moved back into his old apartment in the outskirts of Yerevan. He shares the apartment with a friend from Syria. He’s currently working as a carpenter, making $225 per month. His portion of the housing rent is $50 per month. Carlo saves as much money as possible and sends it to his struggling family in Aleppo.


In its latest report, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic portrayed the Free Syrian Army—or the “good rebels”—as “Syrian moderate nationalists organized in a conglomeration of armed groups affiliated to the internationally backed Supreme Military Council, fighting the Government and calling for the formation of a democratic and pluralistic State. It also includes moderate Islamic groups and armed groups with local agendas limited to their communities’ aspirations.”[30]

The abduction, torture, dehumanization, and the lack of due process experienced by Carlo Hatsarkorzian, Sako Assadourian, Garo Boboghlian, and Narek Varjabedian reflects a reality that contradicts the international commission’s depiction of the FSA.

In fact, the experiences of these four Armenians reveal one of two things about the Supreme Military Council: that either the SMC has no control over the FSA battalions under its chain of command, or that the SMC of the Free Syrian Army has no intention of creating a democratic and pluralistic state in the Syrian Arab Republic, where the rights of minority groups such as, the Armenians are preserved.

The independent commission’s March 18, 2014 report was based on investigations conducted between July 15, 2013 and Jan. 20, 2014—the same period of time that saw the kidnapping and torture of these four Armenians. Within that same interval, Wanis (father) and Minas (son) Levonian were abducted by ISIS and brutally executed on Jan. 8 or 9, 2014.[31] After their execution, the Aleppo Sharia Committee refused to hand over their bodies for a proper Armenian burial.

Moreover, during this specific interlude, numerous other Armenians were kidnapped and subjected to human rights violations. And yet, the independent commission’s report fails to make a single reference to human rights violations committed against the Armenian population of Syria.

More than three years into the Syrian conflict, local and international human rights organizations have failed to properly document the constant violations and crimes committed against the Armenians. This consistent negligence of the plight of the Armenians compels us to believe that in the eyes of the international community, the Armenians are an insignificant segment of Syrian society.


How you can help

Carlo and Sako are de facto political refugees who have endured an insurmountable amount of terror at the hands of the Free Syrian Army. Considering their recent experience in Syria, both men are unable and unwilling to return to Aleppo. Their desire is to find a permanent home in Armenia.

Recognizing the unique and urgent circumstance of these two men, the Aleppo Compatriotic Charitable Organization NGO recently launched an online fundraising campaign to raise funds for the purchase of apartments for Carlo, Sako, and their respective families. The California based non-profit, the Ani & Narod Memorial Fund, Program on Justice & Equity for Syrian-Armenian Refugees, will match up to $5,000 in donations, towards the purchase of these apartments.

You can donate to ACCO by visiting http://www.aleppo-ngo.org/donate/online-paypal-tranfer/ or by sending a check to the organization’s offices in New Jersey: Aleppo Compatriotic Charitable Organization, 2 Marvin Rd., Middletown, NJ 07748.

Please specify the purpose of your donation by writing “Carlo & Sako Apartments” in the memo line. For further information about this case, contact the author via email.



[1] http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/syria1013_ForUpload.pdf

[2] http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/The_Supreme_Military_Council_of_the_Free_Syrian_Army_response_to_You-can-still-see-their-blood_0.pdf

[3] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/02/obama-to-arm-syrian-rebels.html

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Armenian Weekly interview by Skype with Carlo Hatsarkorzian, April 23, 2014

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Armenian Weekly interview with Sako Assadourian, Yerevan, Armenia, April 11, 2014

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Armenian Weekly interviews with Sako Assadourian & Carlo Hatsarkorzian on different days

[10] During the interview with the Armenian Weekly, both Carlo and Sako, provided the real identity of the FSA military commander, “Abu Ali,” but in order to protect themselves and their families, they requested not to publish those details.

[11] http://emmejihad.wordpress.com/tag/hraytan/

[12] The Armenian Weekly interview by Skype with Carlo Hatsarkorzian, April 23, 2014

[13] Ibid.

[14] The Armenian Weekly interview with Sako Assadourian, Yerevan, Armenia, April 11, 2014

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] The Armenian Weekly interview by Skype with Carlo Hatsarkorzian, April 23, 2014

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] The Armenian Weekly interview with Sako Assadourian, Yerevan, Armenia, April 11, 2014

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] The Armenian Weekly interview by Skype with Carlo Hatsarkorzian, April 23, 2014

[29] The Armenian Weekly interview with Sako Assadourian, Yerevan, Armenia, April 11, 2014

[30] The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, March 18, 2014 Report: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/Pages/IndependentInternationalCommission.aspx

[31] http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/story-two-armenians-arrested-isis

Sarkis Balkhian

Sarkis Balkhian

Sarkis Balkhian is a contrarian, political, and human rights activist focusing on the Middle East and the South Caucasus regions. He is the advocacy director of the Aleppo Compatriotic Charitable Organization, a group supporting Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. Balkhian holds a B.A in government and international relations from Clark University and an M.A. in diplomacy and international relations from Yerevan State University. He is based in Yerevan.


  1. Who can justify this. Who realy wants to remove Bashar Assad. Do they know what they will get in return? Who realy think Syria will be a democratic country with Bashar removed. Look to Irak. Egypt have same shit, only new rapping.

  2. we shall find them dogs that did that to our people and see how long they will last at our hands-COWARDS and worms-they are pigs of satan-

  3. Through prayers miracles are happening. Please pray to our Lord Jesus Christ to heal Siranoush Assadourian and unite the whole family in harmony. The Grace and Love of Jesus Christ is sufficient for us.

  4. Here is my immediate thoughts about after reading the whole article with mix feelings.
    1-the war is not a desirable although if it is an unescapable thing we have to face it with the willingness of arming ourselves at least for self defense and our Syrian Armenian brothers&sisters chose not to,,and by the time they did it was too late.
    2-No empty talks will be helpful now to these war victims who suffered badly in the hand of those notorious so-called SFA terrorism’s tortures in Syria and after the following trauma they had to face.
    These guys lost everything including some of their loved ones and need financial support more then anything else…
    Giving a hand to these individuals probably will resolve their problems for a short while temp. but how about the rest of the thousands victims who stayed behind in Syria ?
    And ,,my most important question is,,,why should we still consider to send money to Syria to rebuild again the already much ruined Armenian lives again with being fully aware of that one way to another building a future life in a land which is not our’s and will not ever be is a damn and illogic thing to do while we may have a choice to do the same in our Homeland eastern Armenia instead of the foreign land surrounded by hostile religious Muslims?
    It will be a wise decision to make the wiser choice to rebuild newer lives in Mother Armenia and still keep dreaming of uniting the rest of the occupied Armenian land by the enemies.
    I think the right thing to do will be to conantrate on how to build our lives in Motherland Armenia with the future’s financial aids in wholesale if that financial aid is ever going to be given…
    Housing,creating employments in Armenia to employ those who would be willing to go to Armenia to join to the rest of our Armenian nation in Armenia will also probably raise hope for those unemployed ones in Armenia who had lost their hopes and plans to leave the country in order to seek employment abroad.

  5. The politicization and fantasization of Islamic religion have reached to it’s catastrophic failure in Iraq and Syria. Armenians have no other choice, but to assimilate with their violence culture, or leave the region. Resettling in Armenia and Artsakh will be the best choice, for those unfortunate and hopeless Armenians!

  6. This is horrible to read ….to read of the torture these men went through, to be dehumanized with physical torture as well as verbal insults. How does the world community reach the ISIS people to show them to learn to live at peace with other humans. to replace their hatred for others with a willingness to live in peace. May we as Americans keep the people of the Middle East in our prayers, that God will show us the way to reach the hearts ans minds of the men who are the Moslem leaders. May there be someone in their own midst that will be convincing and strong enough to preach the good news of Christainity.

  7. RETURN TO ARMENIA – A good theory for Armenians living in moslem countries. But to live a safe and peaceful life in Armenia, there has a lot of development to be organized in the homeland. If nothing will be changed in Armenia, Armenia will not be a safe country in the following decades. We should look at Israel in order to find out, what has to be done in the future to make Armenia more safe.
    We are also surrounded by moslem countries that increasingly become a danger for Armenia. What made Israel strong ?
    First there is the ideology of Zionism, developed by Herzl in the 19th century. Zionism organizes all theory about what is good for the Jewish people and how the leadership of the people has to act.
    A similar ideology could help Armenians, but does not exist so far.
    Surely this Zionism now also organizes the duties of the Jewish diaspora concerning to the homeland.
    Even without having something like Zionism there Armenians can start:
    Organizing the Diaspora and making them support the homeland financially all according to their income in their country ! Acting like this of course affords bigger changes in Armenia as well. All Oligarchs, all political leaders and big parts of the people have to give up their egoism and follow the idea of what has to be done to make the homeland much more safer. “Defense” has to be one of the most important words of the future. Its not enough to show weapons to the people at the end of September. The Israeli armed forces have 3 years of military service for men AND women ! In Israel most people understand that you have to defend what you love. With a very few exceptions the Armenian people always bowed their necks under the power and violence of foreign aggressive peoples. This HAS to end !
    It will be a long way to march ! But the education in this direction has to start.

  8. Dear Mr. Balkhian:
    As a Brazilian professional colleague — I’m also a journalist –, please, allow me to bring to your attention this extremely disturbing fact. At the same time Armenians are tortured — what is unacceptable from any point of view –, other Armenians were torturing a defenseless creature. I wrote the following about that other unacceptable cruelty. I have also sent a letter to the Embassy of The Repbulic of Armenia in Brazil — so far, however, I haven’t got an answer.
    “As a former member of the Brazilian Army, I have no doubt in saying it: those men are NOT soldiers:
    A real soldier would have found aid to that animal. They are cowards wearing military uniform. I’m quite sure that, when facing the enemy, they will show the same cowardice they did against that beautiful creature.
    Ironically, in the year in which their country is remembering the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians (Medz Yeghern) by Turkey, those cowards are treating that wolf the same way their people were treat 100 years ago.
    I hope Mr. Serge Sarkisian, the President of The Republic of Armenia, have already punished those men, who brought shame the good name of the Armenian Military personnel.
    I wonder if someone from Armenia could update me about whether or not those ‘soldiers’ were punished. Thank you for your attention.

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