During our four brief years at college, we rightfully focus on engaging with our direct surroundings. However, exceptional circumstances in faraway places occasionally deserve our full attention.
For the dozens of Boston College students with Armenian backgrounds, the past week has been painfully preoccupied with the horrific situation in Kessab, Syria. Until a few days ago, Kessab was one of the last areas of historic Western Armenia still populated by Armenians, having survived Turkish attempts to wipe out its residents during the 1915-23 genocide. Though civil war raged throughout Syria, Kessab’s Armenians remained strictly neutral, hoping their strategically unimportant location would allow them to live quietly.
On March 21, rebels associated with Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam, and Ansar al-Sham crossed from Turkey into Kessab. According to eyewitness reports, the rebels passed freely through Turkish military barracks; international media has confirmed that the Turkish Air Force provided the militants protection. In a chilling echo of the genocide, the rebels sacked Kessab, forcing the entire Armenian population to flee for their lives. Rebels took the remaining Armenian families hostage, desecrated the town’s three Armenian churches and pillaged local residences.
In the wake of this act of ethnic cleansing, little has been reported in the Western media, and our government continues to offer Turkey its unflagging support. Even more troubling, although Kessab is far from the first Christian or Armenian area to be directly targeted by Syrian rebels, our government has taken no concrete steps to assist these vulnerable minorities.
As students who pride ourselves on courageously speaking out against injustice, we are called to raise the alarm about the Syrian crisis. In the words of Holocaust martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” For us, the choice is clear-sit silently and allow entire peoples to vanish, or stand in protest and demand justice for the minorities of Syria.