A Syrian village emptied as Christians flee fighting

A jihadist in the Armenian church of Kassab village, near Syria's border with Turkey.
 
Jihadist rebel factions launched an offensive against the village of Kassab on Saturday, leading Christian Armenian and Alawite residents to flee. Today, Kassab is empty. Most of its inhabitants have taken refuge in Latakia, a regime stronghold.
 
Kassab, located in northwestern Syria at the border with Turkey, was the only Armenian village in the region. Local Christian Armenian families settled in the region in 1915 to escape genocide on the part of the Ottoman empire. The village was also home to an Alawite minority.
 
A rebel commander that participated in the fighting told FRANCE 24 that the residents “started packing their bags after hearing the first gunshots” at dawn on Saturday, March 22, the first day of the offensive. He added that “the Armenian population is not targeted and their possessions will be safeguarded”. Pro-opposition channels have shared videos on social media that show rebel fighters helping residents leave the village.
 
 
Abdallah Mhesne is a Saudi preacher that travels with rebel factions in the Syrian north, and who is currently posted in the outskirts of Kassab. He describes on his Twitter account (see below) how he “entered a Christian home [in Kassab] with the brothers. They did not touch anything … but the crosses, wine bottles, and pig meat were destroyed”.
 
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“More than 900 families have arrived in the last four days”

FRANCE 24 spoke with an administrator for the Latakia News Network, a group on Facebook that has links with the Syrian regime. He wished to stay anonymous.
 
The families arrived in Latakia in small groups, coming from the Kassab and al-Samra villages [located in the hills around Latakia], starting Saturday morning. I was present for the first wave of arrivals, which consisted of roughly 500 people, primarily women and children. Over the last four days, more than 900 families have arrived, but I don’t know the exact number of displaced people because many went directly to stay with family or friends in town.

The displaced people arrived by car or by bus. Many got here thanks to the help of residents from other villages that were spared by the fighting. Locals went out to the Cheikh Hassan road [between Kassab and Latakia] in order to help those who did not have any means of transportation.
 

 
On their end, the regular army and the national defence units [pro-government militias] sought to protect the convoys, but they were targeted by sniper fire during most of the journey. Luckily, nobody was hit.
 
Volunteers and members of local organisations lent a hand to the Syrian Red Crescent, which did the brunt of the work, as well as clergymen from the Orthodox and Armenian churches in Latakia. These are “emergency” measures, which are only meant to last a couple of days.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Wassim Nasr (@SimNasr).
 
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