Turkey facilitated an attack carried out by Islamist fighters against the Armenian town of Kasab inside Syria, eyewitnesses have told the Telegraph.
Kasab, the ancestral home of the Armenian ethnic minority in Syria, which had remained relatively sheltered from the conflict in Syria.
Residents were woken on the morning of the attack, on March 21, to screams and cries.
“We woke to the sounds of the shelling. There was no time even to get dressed,” remembered Bedros, 45, an Armenian resident who asked not to be identified by his real name. “I grabbed my wife and my children. We had no time to take our things. Some people fled in their night gowns.”
Two days later Kasab was in the hands of an alliance of Islamist groups, including the jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra, aligned with al-Qaeda. Almost all of the villages approximately 2,000 inhabitants had fled.
The night of the attack a relative of Bedros had gone to one of the main border posts with Turkey, which is only lightly armed with Syrian troops, reportedly because of an agreement signed decades before the war.
“By the time he arrived the attack had begun. He saw the Islamist fighters standing with the Turkish army. They started launching their shells from the border”.
“It is not feasible that these groups could have crossed into Syria from where they did without the knowledge of the Turks,” Lama Fakih, the Syria and Lebanon researcher at HRW told the Telegraph.
The attack on Kasab sparked dark memories of the Ottoman massacres for its inhabitants, and a hysterical flurry across social media from pro-government sources claiming horrific massacres in the town.
Residents themselves brought up memories of massacres in 1909, and the genocide in 1915, when Kasab villagers were slaughter in their thousands by the Ottomans.
“We always thought the Turks would attack us one day,” said Bedros, the fellow family members who he is sharing his new lodgings in Lebanon, nodding as he spoke. “And with the attack on Kasab it was clear that Turkey helped. The attackers came from Turkish territory.”
Al-Nusra and the Islamic Front have pushed deeper into the terrain, taking control of Samra, giving them access to the coastline and engaging in fierce battles for ‘observatory 45’, the highest mountain point in the area, and a strategically vital military position.
“You can see why we needed to take Kasab,” said Dr Mahmoud, diplomacy envoy for the Islamic Front.