Turkey has started to host two senior Armenians from Syria who fled their hometown after jihadists allegedly backed by Ankara invaded their area.
Syrian rebels and their jihadist allies, the al-Nusra Front, launched a major offensive on Latakia nearly two weeks ago and have since seized several positions and villages including the Kasab area, home to a border crossing into Turkey, according to Agence France-Presse.
Sirpuhi Titizyan, 80, and Satenik Titizyan, 82, had to leave their houses in Kasab, cross the border and settle in a neighborhood populated largely by Armenians in the Turkish province of Hatay.
A rocket hit a mosque in the Yayladağı district of Hatay on March 31, injuring a Syrian woman, after clashes between Syrian regime forces and the Free Syrian Army had intensified.
Hundreds of fighters on both sides have been killed in the battles for Latakia, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Authorities in Yayladağı told daily Hürriyet 60 artillery shells and rockets hit the area in the past week. Opposition fighters who now control Kasab are accused of attacking Armenians, who consist of two-thirds of town’s population.
The Armenian diaspora blames Ankara, too, for its alleged role in permitting jihadists to freely traverse the border at Yayladağı and for shooting down a Syrian plane that was conducting operations against the Islamists.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and senior officials who spoke to Hürriyet denied the allegations. Turkey also conveyed to the Armenian community and to the United Nations its willingness to help in the evacuation of Armenians in Kasab.
Referring to Turkey, Sirpuhi and Satenik Titizyan have told daily Hürriyet that they were now in “paradise.” They were escorted by opposition fighters into Turkey, the two sisters said. Farmers and officials in the Turkish town are now taking care of their guests.
The Titizyan sisters are not the only Armenians in the area. Vakıflı, now the only Armenian village in Turkey, is in the province of Hatay near Mount Musa with its 120 residents. Armenians in the village denied claims that Ankara was helping opposition fighters in their attack on Kasab.
f it is true, how come the Turkish government has looked after us,” one said. Two refugee camps visited by Hürriyet are hosting people who fled Kasab in 2012. They said the attacks in Kasab were not specifically targeting Armenians but victimizing all Syrians, including Armenians.
‘We left our keys to a bearded man’
Speaking to weekly Agos, the two sisters said they left the keys of their home to “a man with a beard” before leaving the village. “Around 10 men came to our house, told us that they would take us to the Armenians in Latakia, who earlier left the village,” the sisters said. “I locked my house and gave the keys to the men, because they would enter the house anyway after we left.”
The sisters said all houses in the village had been broken into. There were no casualties in the village because “there were no one to be killed, everybody had left weeks ago.”