The Wall Between Kessab and Turkey

Recently it was reported that Turkey has built a wall between Syria and Turkey at Kessab area. Kessab is a village populated mainly by Armenians and Alevis. It is about half hour drive from the coastal city of Latakia.

Kessab has a long border with Turkey and is surrounded on three sides with 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 this factors, it is hard not to ask “why build a wall?”.

I was born in Kessab that was populated mainly by Armenians. I spent my early childhood there and have fond memories about the 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 at 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 at 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 every thing that human beings needed to purchase for basic livelihood.

There were Davul/Zurna bands and singers. The traditional circle dances were joined by almost every one, young and old. The food and drinks were plentiful for every one 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 solders (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 was 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 grand father had a large field right at the border where he planted wheat. May be 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 the Turkish control, and the other side was the Dunag mountain range controlled by Syria. (Our biggest property was in that district about 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 station or villages at that location. Unlike the Syrian side that was rocky, the beach at Turkish side was sandy but never seen any swimmers enjoying it. Despite our parents warnings, some times we will “cross” to the Turkish side just for 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 solders if they knew where the marker was and if we could walk to it. They were not aware of such a border marker an added that the whole area was no mans 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 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 on Dunag mountain range called Sldran. We enjoyed the spectacular view of the Kaladuran valley doted with 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 sea shore 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 of 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 Ballum mountain range that is also controlled by the Turkish army is as vulnerable as the Kaladuran valley. With all this strategic and military advantages in favor of Turks, I continue to wonder, “why build the wall?”.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian


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