The screening, held at the Media Center, explored the history of Kessab, a historical Armenian city that lies on the Mediterranean coast on the border of Syria and Turkey. It is the first of three films in a series dedicated to the city.
During a live-feed from a Church in Latakia, Garo Manjikian, a member of the Kessab-Latakia Emergency Relief Coordinating Committee, said, “We don’t have a reliable stream of information from Kessab. We only know what we hear from various individuals affected by the attacks and from our relatives living in adjacent Turkish villages: namely, that items looted from Armenian households are being sold in Turkish villages and that 25 elderly Armenians are unaccounted for. The deportations occurred with direct consent from Turkey. There are currently 150 refugees in the Armenian Church in Latakia, all of whom are waiting to return to Kessab.”
The Kessab-Armenians featured in “Kessab” present their history as beginning from before the Common Era, spanning from Tigran the Great’s rule to the 21st century. They reflect on the massacres perpetrated by the Turks in 1909, the Genocide that occurred in 1915, and their return to Kessab 3 years after the incidences.
Kessab ethnographer, Hakob Cholakian and Arab scholar, Nizar Khalili, survey Kessab’s past using historical evidence and the personal narratives of young schoolchildren and adults.
102 year old Kessab resident Galil Nana/ Galilia Manchikyan, for instance, was 7 years old when the Genocide in 1915 occurred. She recalls her memories from the Genocide, specifically discussing the tattoos on her hands. She describes life in Kessab, illustrating the secrets of survival and cultural/ national preservation within this cultural enclave, which has managed to endure despite 3 evacuations by the Turks and cohabitation with the Arabs.
According to Kessab-Armenian journalist Salpy Saghdejian the recent evacuations from Kessab represented not only a physical uprooting of these people, but the destruction of their history and heritage. “Kessab possesses a great legacy and significance for Armenians”. It is therefore unsurprising that the ‘Kessabtsi’ is determined to return to Kessab, despite her certainty that many of their possessions will be gone.
“Kessab is not merely a community, but a small fragment of Cilician Armenia”, said film-maker, Nane Bagratuny, during the discussion that followed the screening. She urged journalists to use prudence in reporting for Kessab, however, arguing that misinformation can lead to serious negative consequences, especially given the strategic location of the city.
On April 4th, the “Media Center” held a screening and panel discussion for the first part of a series, “Kessab”. Panelists included the film’s Director and Producer, Nane Bagratuni, and Kessabstis Salpy Saghdejian and Hakob Kortmosian. Karo Manjikian, who is leading relief efforts in Latakia joined the discussion via Skype. He provided the closing remarks for the event, presenting the latest information about the situation in Kessab.