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ICC Note: When rebels took control of the Christian town of Kessab that had long been controlled by the Assad regime, the town’s 2000+ residents fled the area. This again stoked fears that Christians would be targeted as they have repeatedly by Islamic extremist groups throughout the more than three years of conflict. A public relations war is being waged, and again, as in the physical conflict, Christians are caught in the middle.
04/07/2014 Syria (Christian Science Monitor) – When the Syrian opposition took over the Armenian-Christian town of Kessab in coastal Syria last month, its 2,000 residents fled. Given the presence of Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist groups, they feared the worst for their town.
So far, these fears have not been realized. Instead, rebels appear to be using Kessab as an opportunity to try to undo their reputation for extreme brutality towards Syria’s Christians and Shiites. But the Assad regime, which considers itself the protector of minorities, has launched a media campaign to demonstrate how Islamists are terrorizing Christians in Kessab, turning the town into a public relations battlefield in Syria’s civil war.
Christians’ fears of the armed opposition have been stoked by events such as the Hatla massacre, in which at least 30 Shiite villagers were killed, and by snapshots of life under the control of extremist groups: strict Islamist doctrine, public beheadings of “infidels,” and the alleged levying of a jizya, or protection tax, on some Christian communities by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al Qaeda-linked militant group.
Seizing on this reputation, the regime has flooded social media with shocking images of death and desecration of Shiite and Christian religious sites lifted from other events during the three-year-long war. Regime loyalists have even distributed a 2005 horror film called “Internal Damnation” to give the impression that a sectarian massacre took place.
The Syrian opposition has been quick to present its own narrative. Pro-opposition media have released videos of rebels helping elderly Kessab residents unable to flee regime airstrikes, and protecting local churches. Ahmed Jarba, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition, visited the town recently to demonstrate the opposition’s willingness to protect the population.
The opposition-aligned Syrian Christians for Democracy called on US lawmakers to launch an inquiry into the regime’s “systematic abuse of the Christian community,” claiming that Syrian Armenians have been forcibly conscripted to fight with the regime.
Kessab remains in the hands of the opposition, which has pushed on to other parts of coastal Syria.
“As Armenians, we are not interested in the war of information that is taking place. Different parties have used the situation in Kessab to promote their own agendas,” says Father Paul Haidostian, head of the Haigazian University in Beirut.

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