In service of that narrative, they generally make the most of the slightest military gain made by the regime while failing to report altogether important victories by the opposition. Now that the recent opposition gains in Latakia province have gotten too big to ignore, Assad and his minions are attempting to spin these rebel victories into a tale of the continuation of a holocaust carried out by Turkey against Armenians almost a hundred years ago. They have branded this campaign #SaveKessab.
|Rebels' Tanks convoy in East Ghouta|
Rebels open a new front
The Latakia offensive was started on 21 March 2014 by the combined armed forces of four opposition groups; it began with an attack on the Kessab border crossing with Turkey. The "Antal" campaign, as it is called, has been seven months in the making, in that time, military intelligence was gathered, ammunition was stockpiled, and extensive preparations were made. It is being led by Ansar as-Sham of the Islamic Front, and supported by Ahrar al-Sham, also of the IF, the independent faction Sham al-Islam and the jhadist group Jabhat al-Nursa. It is also now being supported by the Free Syria Army. The strategic goals of phase one of the Antal campaign are to liberate the Kessab border crossing and Kessab city and to relieve pressure on other rebel commands by opening a new front in Assad's heartland. Taking the area around Kessab gives the opposition its first route to the sea and its first port. There are also large criminal gangs that operate out of the area and murder and terrorize Syrian refugees in Turkey, and they need to be neutralized. To accomplish this mission, it was also necessary to take the Syrian Army base at Tower 45, which is the highest point on Jebel Turkman. The Syrian Army had been making use of its control of the high points like Tower 45 and Kessab crossing to rain down artillery shells and death on all the opposition towns below. All of these phase one goals have been accomplished in the first ten days of the campaign. The goals of phase two are TBA.
Latakia is important because even a regime that is willing to starve, gas, shell, and barrel bomb its own children to stay in power needs a loyal home base. Latakia is majority Alawite, Assad's sect, and his ancestral home. It is also heavily Shite and Christian in this majority Sunni Muslim country. As the French did before them, the Assad's have long cultivated a privileged position for the Alawite and used that to purchase their loyalty. The regime has also favored the Shite and Christians of Latakia to assure a solid base of support at home, although not without significant cracks, as exampled by Christian, Alawite and Shite fighters among the revolutionaries.
The rebels have long known that the regime won't fall until Damascus and the coast fall. This campaign is opening a new permanent front in the armed struggle against the Assad regime. It is also designed to shake confident in the regime among its core supporters and provide much needed relief to opposition fighters being pressed hard by the regime on many other fronts by forcing them into withdrawing forces from those battles and sending them to defend this home turf. There are important signs that this is already happening. A government caravan of 25 trucks recently left Idlib and Ariha and another military convoy left Aleppo for Latakia. Also recent reports have Hezbullah showing its colors in Latakia and that means those fighters aren't elsewhere.
This should be seen for what it is, a dramatic and daring military victory by the co-ordinated opposition that flies in the face of the "Assad is Winning" thesis that seems to be heard everywhere these days. Here's a recent example from one of the usual pro-Assad suspects:
With the restoration of order in Yabroud, and with militant factions folding en masse, it appears that large-scale military operations against Syria have largely drawn to a close and are shifting instead toward a low-intensity terrorist campaign.So writes Tony Cartalucci on Intifada Palestine, 30 March 2014 as the successful Antal campaign enters its second week. A few paragraphs down he even makes reference to the fighting around Kessab but he twists the facts to serve his narrative.
Syrian forces have pushed the militants to the very borders of Syria.Tony doesn't tell you that the Turks shot down the Syrian warplane because it over flew Turkish air space while trying to attack rebel forces in Kessab. As you can see from the map, Assad may have real difficulties conducting air operations with modern jets over Kessab without violating Turkish air space. Tony doesn't tell you that the Syrian jet was shot down on a new front in which they took a border post formally occupied by the Syrian army because he is trying to use the fact that this battle is taking place near a border to promote his baseless narrative that the opposition is on the verge of being pushed out of the country.
Just today, Turkey resorted to firing on, and claims to have shot down a Syrian warplane as Syrian forces battled militants along the border.
|Map of Kessab region of Syria|
This is just one small example of how the Assad forces conduct the public relations war, and since they are as mean spirited and dishonest in that realm as they are in conducting military operations against an unarmed people, instead of acknowledging this rebel victory, the always clever Assad regime has been trying to snatch a kind of PR victory from the jaws of military defeat with its #SaveKessab campaign.
It has been able to do this because this area of Latakia, including Kessab, is largely Christian Armenian and the Armenians have a very negative history with Turkey, which still refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide which Turkey carried out during and after World War I.
As the map shows, Kessab sits on a thumb of Syria surrounded on three sides by Turkey, so it is likely to be involved in this particular conflict in many ways. Charges that rebels have infiltrated or been supplied from Turkey, of Syrian war planes over flying Turkish air space, of artillery being fired from Turkey, or mortar shells landing in Turkey are all likely true. This proximity has also allowed some very nefarious propagandists to spin a counter narrative that what is really going on in Kessab is a direct continuation of the Armenian holocaust after the first world war with Turkey now using al Qaeda as its agent of mass murder. This nightmare fantasy has been very effective because it feeds historic emotions among the widespread Armenian diaspora about the Armenian holocaust and strong concerns that Turkey may still be abusing Armenians anywhere. It stands as yet one more example of the Assad regime's willingness to stoke sectarian and religious conflict, even with lies and fabricated evidence, in its desperate effort to stay in power.
Articles like these started showing up in the pro-Assad media and soon the myth of genocide in Kessab was off and running. alakhbar english had this on Wednesday:
The Christian Broadcast Network reported on Thursday that at least three churches had been desecrated and 80 people had been killed, at least one of them beheaded, and RT had this on Monday:
Syria’s Kessab: The devastation of an Armenian safe haven
26 March 2014
By Kevork Almassian
The Syrian town of Kessab, once a popular holiday destination, has recently come under heavy gunfire from rebel groups linked to al-Qaeda. Armed men entered the town, looted Armenian shops and homes, taking families hostage, and desecrating the town's three churches.
The attack has forced at least 2,000 ethnic Armenian civilians to seek refuge in Latakia and other neighboring hills. For Syria watchers, this incident further highlights the systematic targeting of Christian communities in the country. More...
Soon, much more gruesome stories of massacres of Armenians in Kessab along with the looting of homes and desecration of Christian churches, complete with pictures, were going viral along with the hashtag #SaveKessab on Twitter and Instagram.
Christians flee Syria’s Kessab, Twitter cries atrocities,
Armenia accuses Turkey
31 March 2014
The Syrian Army is trying to retake the Christian majority town of Kessab reportedly seized by al-Qaeda-linked forces. The attack made hundreds of ethnic Armenians flee and caused international outcry with Armenia blaming Turkey for supporting extremists.
The Armenian govt called on the UN to protect Kessab, evoked the Armenian genocide, and accused Turkey of allowing Jihadists cross their border to attack Kessab. Ankara slammed the accusations and condemned the charge as ‘confrontational political propaganda’. More...
|Graphics sold as pictures of Armenian genocide in Kessab on social media|
#StopGenocide #SaveKessab I have a lot of Armenian friends I love & support that are like #FAMILY to… http://t.co/ncqJvazYbO
— Travis Barker (@travisbarker) March 30, 2014
Please let's not let history repeat itself!!!!!! Let's get this trending!!!! #SaveKessab #ArmenianGenocide
— Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian) March 30, 2014
The problem is that none of this is true. All of the images that have been published as "documentation" of the need to #SaveKessab, have been shown to be fakes, from other times and other tragic places. There have been no massacres of civilians in Kessab by opposition forces, no looting of homes and no desecration of churches, no ethnic cleansing of Armenians. In this video, Tevan Poghosyan, a Member of the Armenian Parliament who traveled to Latakia and spoke to displaced Armenians from Kessab, talks about what they told him. He said that no Armenians had been killed by the rebel actions and no churches desecrated.
These images ar old hoaxes thrust into media by Assad propagandists and sadly believed by angry Armenians #SaveKessab pic.twitter.com/otKcYJERW2
— Abdul (@al_7aleem) March 29, 2014
The Defense Ministry of the opposition’s interim government has said all units of the Free Syrian Army participating in the Latakia offensive “are committed to the protection of civilians and their properties regardless of sect and ethnicity”. The mainly Islamic fighters knew that by laying siege to a largely Christian area, the regime would make the claim that the attack had a sectarian rather than a strategic basis and would make the charge that ethnic cleansing is going on so they have been careful to document the conditions of churches and other property in their hands, as with this video posted to You Tube. Many more videos and stills showing the real state of affairs in Kessab can be found in The Facts about Kassab, posted from Filor Nigo, 30 March 2014.Use of unverified sources, false photos clearly from different time/country/movies(!) and misuse of word 'genocide' are all doing harm.
— Liana Aghajanian (@LianaAgh) March 29, 2014
Liana noticed rather correctly that fake videos especially (with the hashtag #SaveKessab) spread quickly and with great persistence: images of mass executions that have nothing to do with Kessab (the fake video was disseminated by the Russian news site LifeNews, but the original video was uploaded on YouTube on March 20, prior to the attack on Kessab) and videos prepared from clips of feature films.
Now the mayor of Kessab is trying to put an end to these stories. KALA news is reporting 31 March 2014, as translated here:
The people of Kessab have been inconvenienced and displaced, more than a thousand have moved temporarily to Latakia City to get out of the way of fighting armies. Civilians may even be harmed, so far none have been killed, but this could change, but not because they are Armenian and not because Turkey is still bent on carrying forward a hundred year old genocide. These people of Kessab have the unfortunate burden, shared by people in wars throughout history, of being civilians in a conflict zone. They are likely to suffer serious loss only if Assad bombs or shells the town.
Kessab mayor refutes the murders of Armenian in Kessab information
Kessab Mayor, Vazgen Chaparyan, who continues to reside temporarily in Latakia, stated that thousands of Syrian Armenian Refugees from Kessab refuted this morning to KALA of various news sources That Armenians were killed. he said,
"Armenians are not killed, I do not know from where these rumors are being created. Armenians are still coming down safe into Latakia to secure themselves from war zone, and we already are accommodating them in Latakia in community premises and schools: They are all provided with food and other essential supplies."
Mr. Chaparyan also said that they have learned today about Kessab’s 80 elderly left behind ones are still alive, as they are also not captured and nor killed.
"Some have come here now , so they told us. We hope that others will be treated normally as well. And In God's will we will return to our motherland Kessab and we are very grateful for all the people abroad thinking and worrying about us." More...
|Scene from A Bridge Too Far|
Now its location has brought this three year long conflict to the Armenian community of Kessab. It is a port city in Latakia and the last Turkish border crossing in the hands of the Assad regime, it was only a matter of time before this war came to Kessab. That is bad enough, but now to have these nefarious propagandists spreading lies about massacres and genocide, causing Armenians all over the globe unnecessary trauma because they have seen old pictures of past massacres relabelled with #SaveKessab, shows that these "Left" opportunists know no bounds and no shame.
|#SaveKessab protest at Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles | 28 March 2014|