Finian Cunningham -
Originally from Belfast, Ireland, Finian Cunningham (born 1963) is a prominent expert in international affairs. The author and media commentator was expelled from Bahrain in June 2011 for his critical journalism in which he highlighted human rights violations by the Western-backed regime. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For many years, he worked as an editor and writer in the mainstream news media, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. He is now based in East Africa where he is writing a book on Bahrain and the Arab Spring.He co-hosts a weekly current affairs programme, Sunday at 3pm GMT on Bandung Radio. Finian Cunningham is a frequent contributor to international media, including PRESS TV and nsnbc, where he began contributing in 2012.
Finian Cunningham (SCF) : On the morning of March 21, 2014, the Syrian village of Kessab was attacked with a combined force of Islamist jihadists and the Turkish army. Among the irregular militia were brigades belonging to the Free Syrian Army, Turkmen tribes and Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra and the self-proclaimed Islamic State. All were working in tandem in the resulting massacre. And the evidence shows that the Ankara and Washington governments were fully complicit in the atrocity.
The dawn assault on the mainly Armenian Christian village of 2,000 inhabitants began with heavy artillery fire from Turkish army positions across the border in Turkey’s Hatay Province.Turkish army helicopters were also used to strafe Kessab homes and farms. The village is located in the Jebel Al-Aqra mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea only a few kilometres from the Turkish border in Syria’s Latakia Province.
After the initial salvos from the Turk army, the village was then attacked with thousands of militants who streamed across the border in pick-up trucks. Among the assault force were nationals from Chechnya, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia – as well as British and Australian, according to survivors.
Most of the Kessab residents managed to escape in panic from the advancing jihadists in cars and other vehicles to the southern city of Latakia, which is about an hour’s drive away and is under the control of the Syrian government.
But what transpired in the next days was a massacre of villagers who were left stranded. In total, 88 mainly elderly residents were slaughtered. Thirteen of the victims were beheaded. One young man, 21-year-old Kevork Djurian, was executed in front of his parents. The killers just laughed at his father Papken’s anguish. The jihadists refused to let the father bury his son, saying that he was «an Armenian dog».
Kessab was occupied by the jihadists for nearly three months before theSyrian Arab Army finally routed the militants and retook the village in mid-June 2014. Today, it still remains under Syrian government control.
Two witnesses to the slaughter have separately told this author of the event and its aftermath. One is an American citizen who has lived in Syria for more than 20 years. She is a medical professional who has a family home in Kessab. On the morning of the opening assault, she was in Latakia, but she tended to the survivors who fled to the main Armenian church in Latakia for sanctuary. As well as caring for the traumatised people, some of whom were her neighbours and friends, she carefully noted their accounts of how the initial attack unfolded. When the Syrian army later retook Kessab in June, the American medic returned to the village and witnessed the devastation that the jihadists had inflicted on homes, public buildings and churches.
Another witness is Irish peace activist, Dr Declan Hayes. He also managed to reach Kessab in the days following its recapture by the Syrian army. Hayes interviewed survivors and recorded the scenes of looting and destruction left behind by the fleeing anti-government militia.
«I interviewed the man whose son was slain in front of his eyes», says Hayes. «The jihadists left the young man’s bloodied corpse lying on the ground for three days outside the family home just to torment his parents».
Without exception, all the villagers said that the assault began with artillery fire and raids by helicopter gunships from Turk territory. «The border is heavily militarised with Turk army positions everywhere on the Turkish side. There is no doubt that this attack was launched with the direct involvement of the Turkish government in Ankara», adds Hayes.
Kessab is in the same mountainous location where Turkish F-16 fighter jets last week shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber, which had been carrying out raids on jihadist groups. The Russian plane came down in Syrian territory and one of its pilots was murdered as he parachuted to the ground by Turkmen militants. The Turkmen are Syrian citizens who are ethnically related to Turks across the border.
The American-Syrian woman (whose name has been withheld by this author on request) says that the Turkmen played an important role in the slaughter of Kessab. «They know all the roads, trails and paths into and out of Kessab. They were the ones who led the attackers into the village», she says.
Churches and a cultural centre in the village were desecrated. The attackers moved from house-to-house killing terrified dwellers and then they looted everything that was not nailed down or even those possessions that were nailed down. Money, jewellery, televisions, fridges, doors, windows, furnishings and farm equipment were systematically plundered and hauled back in trucks to be sold off across the border in Turkey.
Adding to the crimes, a group of about 30 elderly village folk were then abducted by the marauders and taken to the Turkish town of Vakifli some 20 kilometres across the border. They were held there by armed militants for several weeks before they were flown by the Turk authorities to the city of Tripoli in Lebanon. From there the people were able to make their way back to the sanctuary of Latakia. The circuitous route was chosen by the Turk regime in order to conceal its involvement in the crime.
During their abduction, the group was visited by an official American delegation that included the then US ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone. Ricciardone introduced himself through an interpreter. The petrified Kessab folk pleaded with the American official to intervene for their release. But he left them in their plight. What he wanted to know through his questioning was if any of the people from Kessab were American citizens.
As the American medic pointed out to this author: «There are a few US citizens like me who live in Kessab. There is a big diaspora community of Armenian Syrians in the United States and many of them have homes back in Syria. It seems that the American ambassador was worried that if any US citizens were among the Kessab survivors this would rebound badly for the American government if that news got out».
As noted, once the US ambassador established that there were apparently no American citizens involved in the aftermath of the Kessab assault, he duly left them to their fate of captivity in Turkey.
What that encounter illustrates is that Washington must have been fully aware of what went down in Kessab. How else would the US diplomat know to show up to question the abducted villagers?
In the days following the attack on the village, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, issued a perfunctory, bland statement about Washington’s «concern» over the violence. But Washington did not specify who the guilty parties were, nor did it issue any censure of the Turk government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was the prime minister at that time. He is now the president.
In fact, a subsequent statement issued by State Department official Victoria Nuland claimed that the Turk government had no involvement in the Kessab incident. However, the Russian, Syrian and Armenian governments did make explicit condemnations of the massacre.
The Turkish government claimed that it had no role in the attack. In an official release, the Erdogan regime said: «The allegations by some circles that Turkey is providing support to the opposition forces by letting them use its territory or through some other ways during the conflict which have intensified recently in the Latakia/Kessab region are totally unfounded and untrue».
But the testimonies cited in this article show that the Turk authorities were directly involved in the military assault and the orchestration of jihadist militants. The Ankara government’s denials of what happened in Kessab are thus barefaced lies.
On April 1, 2014, 12 days after the assault began, Ahmed Jarba, the leader of the Western-backedSyrian National Council (SNC), arrived in Kessab. The SNC is the exiled political wing of the Free Syrian Army. Jarba, who is a protégé of the Saudi regime, went there to inspect the occupation and congratulate the militants on their successful breach of government-held territory in Latakia. The breach of territory to the Mediterranean coast was considered a significant victory for the militants. The following month, in May, Jarba was received in the White House by President Barack Obama. He was also greeted by Obama’s National Security advisor, Susan Rice.
The «rape of Kessab», as Dr Declan Hayes has called it, was fully conducted by fighters belonging to the Western-backed FSA, along with jihadist brigades comprising Turkmen tribesmen and Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah and Islamic State.
The incident serves as a microcosm of the entire four-and-a-half-year-old Syrian conflict. The mainly Armenian Christian village of Kessab is home to all religious sects that reside in Syria, including Alawite and Sunni Muslims. The farming community has lived peaceably together for centuries and has never been persecuted by the Syrian government of President Assad. The only previous persecution was a century ago, in 1915, when the Turk Ottoman empire carried out the Armenian genocide, when 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated. Tragically, many survivors of the Kessab massacre last year are descendants of that first genocide.
On the morning of March 21 last year, the community of Kessab was plunged into an orgy of barbarism carried out by Western, Turk and Saudi-backed jihadists. The whole notion contrived by Western governments and their mainstream media that the West is backing «secular, moderate rebels» in Syria fighting against a sectarian, despotic regime is thus exposed as a vile charade, as the carnage at Kessab shows.
Of particular import is the criminal role played by the Turk government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not only in the orchestration of the slaughter at Kessab, but, more generally, throughout the entire Syrian conflict.
Erdogan has this week flatly denied claims made by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Ankara is complicit in fuelling the conflict in Syria by supporting terrorists through an industrial-scale campaign, involving the smuggling of oil for weapons. Erdogan has even said that he will resign if it is proven that his regime is complicit. His arrogant confidence seems to stem from his regime’s brutal suppression of Turk media publishing verifiable articles that Turkish state intelligence has indeed been running truck-loads of weapons into Syria.
Previously, by way of attempting to absolve the Turk state from charges of terrorist collusion, Erdogan claimed that weapons were being sent to help Turkmen «brothers» to defend themselves from the Syrian army. Following the brutal murder of the Russian pilot by Turkmen jihadists last week, Erdogan this week changed his tune and claimed that weapon convoys into Syria were allegedly being sent to the «Free Syrian Army».
But, as the Kessab massacre demonstrates, the so-called «moderate» FSA is an integral and indistinguishable component of the proxy terrorist army that Ankara and its Washington ally are supporting to overthrow the elected government of President Assad. Any difference is patently just a figment of imaginative propaganda.
Obama, while at the Paris climate change summit this week (appropriately, a «hot-air» conference of world leaders), has this week reiterated calls on Russia to focus its military campaign on the Islamic State and to halt its aerial attacks on «moderate rebels».
The American president and his Turk ally are in no position to lecture anybody about «terrorists» and «moderates». They are all part of the same criminal gang, and that gang includes Obama and Erdogan.