Turkey realizes its blunder in Kassab operation

Turkey now seems to realize its mistake in supporting Syrian rebels in the operation to take control of the Armenian town Kassab in northern Syria, but it's too late and Ankara will have to pay the price for this blunder.

al-monitor A rebel fighter from the Islamic Front walks inside a room at a church in Kassab, April 4, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah.

Topics covered

turkish politics, turkish policy on syria, syrian rebels, syrian crisis, assad, armenians, armenian genocide, armenian diaspora

Apr 8, 2014

What a harebrained scheme it was. You will provide logistical support to al-Qaeda and its allies who captured the Syrian Armenian town of Kassab. When their [Armenian] diaspora rose up, letters were sent to the US Congress and Kim Kardashian, whose family hails from our Kars-Karakale, launched a Twitter campaign with hashtag #SaveKessab, why are we dumbfounded? Then we realized something was not right and started scheming to find a way out. I had earlier written on Kassab when it was captured. People fearing massacres fled to Latakia, leaving behind only the elderly, the infirm and those who say, "If I am going to die, I will die here.” On the eve of the April 24 genocide observance, the Armenian diaspora was thus provided with a current issue to raise. And what did our ambitious official news service Anatolian Agency [AA] do? It started to run stories on how humane the Syrian opposition was by protecting Armenian churches and said that they had actually transported two elderly Armenians to Turkey. 

First, I want to say, "Wake up." The bill for Kassab was made out to Turkey long ago. We will find out later how we will have to pay. The people of Kassab abandoned their homes because of fighters supported by Turkey. They didn’t go to Latakia on vacation. If this temporary exile becomes permanent and God forbid there are other tragedies, make no mistake, it will be Turkey that will pay no matter who the wrongdoer may be.

Now let's discuss siblings Sirpuhi, 82, and Satenik Tititzyan, 84, taken to Vakifli, the only Armenian village in Turkey. A reporter for Armenian weekly Agos, Lora Baytar, spoke with this duo who, according to our AA, had asked to be taken to Turkey. According to Sirpuhi Titizyan, first Turkish-speaking militants came and searched their home. Next, Arabic-speaking ones came and said, "We will take you to Latakia.” But the next morning, instead of Latakia, they were brought to Turkey. They were tricked. Simply put, Turkey needed a story of “We opened our arms to the Armenians," and the militants need a Kassab without Armenians. The Titizyan siblings now want to go to Latakia, where the other people of Kassab are, or to Beirut.

As for protecting Kassab, Titizyan said he gave the key to his house to militants so that they could enter without breaking the door and then loot. But they broke the door and his windows anyway and confiscated his tractor. This was very much in the spirit of “Operation Anfal,” which means "prize, trophy or booty"!

AA quoted Izzet Zohta, a member of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, as saying: “There are three to four churches in the villages of Karaduran and Samra. The Free Syrian Army is doing its best to protect the churches.” But Shant Kerbabian, who lives in Beirut, after speaking with his relatives [in Syria], told Al-Monitor there were no massacres but many other incidents. He said: “Crosses were taken down. This was confirmed." Kerbabian also noted that Jabhat al-Nusra was looting the houses and carrying their belongings to Turkey, and that "Jabhat al-Nusra fighters were saying that they want to bring their 'brothers' [residing] in tents and refugee camps and put them in Kassab."

I called Lora Baytar, who lives in the village of Vakifli. She said 19 more people from Kassab were brought over yesterday. "They are all old. The youngest is over 70 years. They were simply picked up from their homes and hastily dropped at the border. The militants are emptying Kassab but they don’t want to cause bodily harm to the Armenians.”

Then there are reports of Turkey’s role in the capture of Kassab. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, “The Kassab events did not occur at our instance.” But Titizyan, asked by Agos if they were expecting an attack, replied: “No, but they told us Erdogan had opened the way. If Erdogan had not opened the way, so many nasty men would have not have come to Kassab. These men came from Turkey."

A lot has been written about militants crossing to Kassab from Turkey. Suheib Anjarini, a writer from the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, relying on an opposition source, said that more than 1,000 fighters trained in Jordan were brought over from Marka airport to Hatay for the Kassab operation.

And we are constantly told that the FSA was being very careful and compassionate. Although apart from the Bayirbucak Turkmen Brigade there was no FSA involvement in Operation Anfal, they are trying to make Kassab's capture acceptable by nonstop reporting that it was done by the FSA. Smart!

We should give up trying to write a saga of hospitality from this Armenian nightmare. Let’s first identify our “allies" who had the Armenians tweet “Turks again.” 

There are five major actors active in Anfal:

The al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra; Sham al-Islam, established by former Guantanamo prisoner and Moroccan citizen Ibrahim bin Shekrun [Abu Ahmed al Maghribi]; Shukur el Iz, which is close to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS); Ahrar al-Sham; and Ansar al-Islam, part of the overall Salafist organization of the Islamic Front and the Islamic Army controlled by Saudi intelligence. Jabhat al-Nusra leader Mohammed al-Golani is a Syrian al-Qaeda militant who's loyal to Ayman al-Zawahri.

Abu Khalid al-Suri, the founder of Ahrar al-Sham, whose popularity in certain circles of Turkey is growing, was a close friend of Osama bin Laden and was Zawahri’s Syria representative. When Suri was killed in an ISIS suicide attack in Aleppo in February, Zawahri issued a condolence message. Bin Shekrun, who was killed in Kassab last month, had said when he established his organization in August 2013, “Democracy is insulting Allah” and declared Alawites and Shiites to be enemies. The same enmity was expressed by Salafist Sheikh Abdullah el Muheysini in a victory speech he made after capturing the strategic Post 45 in the Kassab area, when he said, “We will annihilate Assad and his cohorts." These groups have similar ideologies. They are more careful with the Armenians as compared with Alawites because the world is watching. Also, their supporter Turkey has found that it will be paying the price.

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