The “Save Kessab” campaign on Twitter and other social media has drawn international attention to the news that rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda crossed the Turkish border and seized control of Kessab, a predominantly Christian Armenian town in northwestern Syria. More than 600 families have fled the country.
On Twitter, the hashtag #SaveKessab accompanies tweets by celebrities such as TV personality Kim Kardashian and rock drummer Travis Barker.
The trend racheted up awareness about events in Kessab, helping the refugees’ plight since late last month reach a broader segment of the population than it otherwise would. (Note to the uninitiated: Twitter users often attach hashtags to their 160-character missives, allowing easy grouping of tweets related to a single topic.)
Kessab is a historically significant site of refuge for the Christian Armenian minority in Syria, which is rocked by rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad. For centuries, Christian Armenians have suffered persecution, deportation, and genocide.
“We are deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is endangering the Armenian community in Kessab, Syria, and has forced many to flee,” the U.S. State Department said last week, adding that officials “deplore continued threats against Christians and other minorities in Syria.”
In support of the “Save Kessab” campaign, Reps. Frank Pallone (D–N.J.), Michael Grimm (R–N.Y.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and David Valadao (R–Calif.) wrote a letter to President Obama. It reads in part:
When coupled with a mass exodus of the Armenian community, these events are far too reminiscent of the early days of the Armenian Genocide. Now, 99 years after their initial deportation [by the Ottoman Turks], another expulsion of Armenians is a telling reminder about the dangers of genocide denial and Turkey’s failure to address its genocidal legacy… 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.”
The Armenian community has called into question Turkey’s role in allowing the rebels responsible for the attack to pass through its border, but many allegations remain unconfirmed and disputed. Armenian groups have held protests internationally to call attention to the possibility of Turkish involvement, which the nation’s Islamic government has denied sharply.
Jim Phillips, The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs, told The Foundry:
The United States must work with Turkey and moderate Syrian rebel groups to defeat the threats posed by Syrian Islamist extremists to Syria’s Christian minority. Such sectarian violence undermines the appeal of the anti-Assad opposition within Syria and undermines international efforts to assist Syrians in liberating themselves from the repressive Assad regime.”
Last week Turkey banned YouTube after an audio recording was leaked in which top government officials discussed military intervention to protect the tomb of Suleyman Shah—considered a piece of Turkish territory inside Syria—from the threat of attack by Islamic militants. The move followed an official ban of Twitter the previous week.
These revelations, coming amid conflicting news reports and eyewitness accounts from various stakeholders in the war, further reflect the complex nature of a conflict that, U.S. policymakers and analysts say, offers no good option for resolution.
Update: Turkey lifted its ban on Twitter on Thursday after a court ruling, a decision that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized. Erdogan, whose attempts to censor free speech have been condemned internationally, said the lifting of the two-week-old ban “should have been rejected on procedural grounds.”
This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.