Kessab returns to government control after Islamists pull out

Kessab returns to government control after Islamists pull out

Washington – Some 250 Kessab families have returned to their homes, according to the town mayor Vazken Chaparian, cited by the government-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on June 16. Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad launched artillery barrages in the area around June 9, with rebel forces taking casualties and withdrawing from the area in subsequent days.

A governor of Latakia has visited the war-scarred town and promised to return basic services within three days. Pictures published in social media showed ransacked homes, burned buildings, a desecrated church and burial ground.

Last March Islamist forces allied with the Syrian opposition attacked the northern edge of the Latakia province after crossing the border from Turkey. Nearly all of the local, majority Armenian population – some 670 families – fled to the provincial center of Latakia, taking shelter at the local Armenian Church.

A few dozen elderly who remained in Kessab were moved by the Islamist rebel forces to the nearby Armenian-populated village of Vakifli in Turkey, before being repatriated to Syria via Istanbul and Beirut.

SANA reported that at least one Kessab man, a 64-year-old Minas Gergirian, remained in town for more than two months, apparently hiding inside his house and surviving by “eating bread crumbs only.”

Syria has been engulfed by a devastating civil war since 2011, with a total death toll estimated at between 110 and 230 thousand, with over three million refugees. The fighting between government and rebel forces has particularly devastated Syria’s largest city – Aleppo – which prior to the war had a large Armenian community numbering in the tens of thousands.