Thousands of Christians have fled the village of Kessab in northern Syria after rebel jihadists took control of the area. Some 80 Christians are reported to have been killed in the assault. A local pastor reported that, “in taking over control, churches were desecrated, houses pillaged and government buildings destroyed”.
The fighting started on Friday 21 March. According to the pastor, fighters of the Al-Nusra front and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Sham – greater Syria) entered north west Syria from Turkey and progressively took control over the town the same day.
The next day, most of the town’s population (some 650 families, over 3,000 individuals), fled into the hills or took refuge in the coastal city of Latakia, about 30 miles south of Kessab. Nothing has been heard since from those who remained behind to guard family properties.
Following a request from Syrian Christians, Open Doors has already allocated some £20,000 for supporting displaced families from Kessab. Many fled their houses with very few possessions and clothes. With this support the church in Syria will be able to help Christian and other families with their basic needs.
Centuries of Christian history
Kessab is a predominantly Christian town. Its residents are Armenian Syrians who settled there centuries ago. Armenia – an ancient country which borders Turkey – was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its ‘national’ religion, even before the Roman Empire did. The town has Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic churches, and there are many other churches in the nearby villages. Kessab is about 6 miles from the Mediterranean, and is the most northern Syrian town near the coast. As well as the resident population, many internally displaced Syrians have already taken refuge in the Kessab area.
Other areas in modern-day Syria also once had ancient Armenian villages, but gradually they left to join larger communities in cities like Aleppo. Kessab, however, has retained its Armenian identity, language and faith.
Now centuries of that Christian culture are in danger of being destroyed in a conflict that is not of the residents’ making.
Source: World Watch Monitor