Recently it was reported that Turkey has built a wall between Syria and Turkey in the Kessab area. Kessab is a village populated mainly by Armenians and Alevis. It is about a half-hour drive from the coastal city of Latakia.
Kessab has a long border with Turkey and is surrounded on three sides by high mountains under Turkish army control. Kessab and its surrounding small villages are like “seating ducks” for the powerful Turkish army that controls most, if not all, strategic locations on mountain tops. Considering these factors, it is hard not to ask “why build a wall?”.
I was born in Kessab which was populated mainly by Armenians. I spent my early childhood there and have fond memories of village life. At the time, the only official border crossing between Kessab and Turkey was called Mafrak.
I remember “crossing” that border only once and it was on the occasion of a meeting (gorushma) between the Armenians living in Musadagh villages in Turkey and their relatives living in Syria and Lebanon. The meeting was held in the Mafrak area.
The event was like a carnival. Apart from relatives and friends meeting each other, there were many Armenians from Kessab, Latakia, Haleb, Beirut, etc. There were many street vendors both from Turkey and Syria with kiosks loaded with everything that human beings needed to purchase for basic livelihood.
There were Davul/Zurna bands and singers. The traditional circle dances were joined by almost everyone, young and old. The food and drinks were plentiful for everyone to enjoy. There were wrestling matches (gulash) by Turkish wrestlers and people bet money on the players they taught might win.
There was a fountain at the Turkish side from where we youngsters fetched water with pails, for drinking and cooking. That was the only time that I remember crossing that border to the Turkish side without the fear of getting caught by Turkish soldiers (askar) that our parents had warned us about.
As young children, we loved to climb mountains and had “conquered” almost all the picks except the ones that were controlled by Turks. Apart from Mafrak, I recall “crossing” the Turkish border at two other locations that were relatively flat areas where there were no army posts or official border stations.
The first one was in Seevaghpor (Black fountain) village where my maternal grandfather had a large field right at the border where he planted wheat. Maybe one-third of the property was on the Turkish side and my grandfather did cultivate the whole field including the area that was beyond the border marker on his property. While plowing the Turkish side of the field, he always became defiant and cursed the French government for ceding the area to the Turks.
The other “crossing” was at the beach at the Mediterranean shoreline in the village of “Dzoovon toghuh” (The sea district). The beach was a bay between two mountains. On one side was the Guni mountain range under Turkish control, and on the other side was the Dunag mountain range controlled by Syria. (Our biggest property was in that district about a twenty-minute walk to the beach where we spent our summer vacations).
The border at the beach was divided by a small brook that almost dried during the summer season. There were no Turkish border stations or villages at that location. Unlike the Syrian side which was rocky, the beach at the Turkish side was sandy but never saw any swimmers enjoying it. Despite our parent’s warnings, sometimes we will “cross” to the Turkish side just for a few moments as an act of “bravado”, rather than enjoying the sandy beach.
After almost sixty years of absence, I visited Kessab with my daughter Talin and my son-in-law Hovig Moushian in 2005. I wanted to show them the border marker at the Seevaghpor location, but the whole area was covered with thick bushes and hardly any trace of the wheat field.
There was a Syrian border station close by. We walked to the border station and asked the soldiers if they knew where the marker was and if we could walk to it. They were not aware of such a border marker and added that the whole area was no man’s land and not accessible.
When we visited the beach it was exactly the same as I remembered it as a young child. The only thing new was the road built for the Turkish army starting from the beach and all along the top of Guni mountain range.
With Talin and Hovig we climbed the highest mountain pick in the Dunag mountain range called Sldran. We enjoyed the spectacular view of the Kaladuran valley dotted by small Armenian villages and the Mediterranean Sea that looked like a blue triangle between the two sloping mountains. From that point, the military road all along the top of Guni mountain range up to the seashore was more clearly visible.
While I was reminiscing about my childhood memories and telling stories about it to Talin, Hovig was cursing the Turks while filming the Turkish army base just opposite the Sldran peak with visible soldiers, tanks, artillery, etc. The whole Kaladuran valley was like “seating ducks” at the mercy of the Turkish Army.
As I said earlier the main Kessab village itself situated at the foot of the Ballum mountain range that is also controlled by the Turkish army is as vulnerable as the Kaladuran valley. With all these strategic and military advantages in favor of the Turks, I continue to wonder, “why build the wall?”.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian