March 24, 2014
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
Dear Prime Minister:
On behalf of the Armenian National Committee of Canada, and Canadians of Armenian origin, I would like to bring your attention an urgent matter concerning the Syrian Armenian community of Kassab. As you may be aware, the Armenian-populated region of Kassab has been the location of a recent attack in Syrian territory from Turkey by al Qaeda linked fighters.
Kassab is the last remaining outpost of the medieval Armenian principality of Cilicia. Kassab has had a constant Armenian population for almost one thousand years. Although the area has been subject to many disputes between various countries seeking control and to significant persecution of its Armenian population during the Ottoman Empire (including massacres in 1909 and deportation of much of its population during the Armenian Genocide in 1915), until this week’s evacuation, the Christian population has never had to completely flee the region.
As we write, al Qaeda members roam the streets of Kassab and the surrounding Christian and Alawite villages. There are confirmed reports of armed men raising al Qaeda banners over Armenian churches and Alawite mosques and making threats to kill all Christians and Alawites found in those communities. Fortunately, the civilian population of Kassab was able to flee to Latakia prior to the arrival of these terrorist- attackers.
This already dire situation is compounded by the fact that these fighters crossed into Kassab from Turkey and seem to have the tacit approval of Turkish authorities to carry out this attack. As you can appreciate, the Armenian population of Kassab, which suffered under the Ottoman Empire, is especially afraid that these attacks are an attempt by Turkey to displace the last elements of the indigenous Armenian population of Cilicia.
We request a meeting to discuss this matter with you in person at your earliest convenience. In advance of this meeting, recognizing the urgency of the situation, we have set out our suggestions for ways in which Canada may act to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and help to uphold the international laws of warfare.
We ask that Canada call upon all sides to the conflict to immediately cease all hostilities in the region and allow the return of the civilian population. We would hope that this could serve as an example for the broader conflict as well and help to bring peace to Syria.
Additionally, we ask that Canada call upon Turkey to take all steps necessary to secure its border and prevent any incursions into Syrian territory. We also ask Canada to request that Turkey explicitly disavow its support of all al Qaeda affiliated groups in the region and to ensure that these groups are expelled from its territory immediately. We believe that by depriving al Qaeda of its safe havens and removing the element of religious extremism and ethnic hatred from the conflict, the Syrian people can choose their destiny without fear that a change in government would lead to genocide of its Christian and Alawite population. The Armenian population of Syria has maintained its neutrality throughout the recent conflict, but has always made it clear that it can not accept a government whose stated goal is the elimination of all minorities from Syria.
Finally, we ask that Canada direct a portion of the assistance allocated for Syrian assistance to the evacuated population of Kassab which is now living in difficult circumstances.
We commend you for Canada’s principled stand on the protection of the rights of minorities in Syria and for Canada’s generous contributions to help Syria’s civilian population and Syrian refugees. We believe that based on Canada’s strong record in this area, Canada and its allies can play an important role in guaranteeing the safety of Syria’s historically important Christian community and in making sure that non-combatants are not displaced from their homes by acts of terrorism contrary to any recognized law of war.
Thank you for all that you have done for the Syrian people and the Armenian-Canadian community and we hope that you continue to come to the assistance of a people whose lives are under serious threat.
Dr. Girair Basmadjian,
President, Armenian National Committee of Canada