Dreams of Kessab

By: | Posted on: 28.03.2014

In 1979, renowned Armenian author Antranig Dzarougian penned a follow-up to his famed memoirMangutiun Chunetsogh Martig (Men without a Childhood), entitled Yerazayin Halebuh (Ethereal Aleppo), in which he reminisced about his beloved Aleppo.

Unlike Dzarougian’s childhood, the years of my youth were spent thousands of kilometers away. Aleppo, or Haleb as we knew it, was an exotic, distant world; a place where Armenian children’s books and Armenian teachers came from. I vividly remember how its name was often accompanied by the word yerazayin (ethereal or dreamy)I would realize only later how fitting that adjective actually was.

I also often heard about Kessab in Syria, one of the only two remaining Armenian villages in the diaspora. In my mind, Kessab was the bastard half-brother of my father’s village Anjar, in Lebanon, since the dialects spoken in both were eerily similar and equally bizarre to my ears. I didn’t know much about Kessab other than what my older cousin told me about his summers there: simple village life, quaint fields, and a strange-sounding dialect.

In 2010, during a trek through the Middle East with my close friends, I was lucky enough to visit Aleppo. After visiting Lebanon for a week we figured it would be a shame not to see the city whose name and significance was often spoken by so many.

Aleppo was more vibrant than I could have ever imagined. The Armenian community was so well organized, active, and dynamic—in a country that my TV often referred to as a “tyrannical dictatorship.” We were lucky to have visited, as less than a year later events would begin to unfold that would change the fate of the country forever.

Aleppo is a very different place today from the dreamy city described in Dzarougian’s book. For just over three years now, the armed conflict in Syria—between forces loyal to the Ba’ath government and those looking to oust it—has made the country unrecognizable.

The conflict had miraculously left Kessab virtually unscathed. Until only a few of days ago, that is.

After years of anticipating the worst but hoping for the opposite, e-mails and social media posts bearing headlines of Kessab’s ill fate began to rush in. While the helpless cries for Kessab’s salvation from Armenians around the world have been overwhelming, the mainstream media has largely been silent on the issue. Almost all of the information available about the situation in Kessab continues to be from Armenian sources.

What is clear, however, is that over the past three days, Kessab has been transformed from a safe haven to a city fully immersed in the Syrian conflict. Cross-border attacks from Turkey by al-Qaeda-affiliated bands have forced the civilian population to flee to neighbouring cities and villages.

Just like that, one of the two remaining Armenian villages of the diaspora became devoid of its native Armenian population.

We never got to visit Kessab during our trip to Syria; time was limited and the village seemed too far away from Aleppo. We figured we’d save it for a later visit.

Nearly four years have passed and Kessab is still a figment of my imagination. I can only wish for the best from far away. Wish that Kessab becomes the quaint, boring village it once was, so that I can see and appreciate what was so uninteresting to me years ago. So that in my head Kessab stops being a mere dream and takes on the ever-deserving yerazayin designation that Dzarougian once bestowed on Aleppo.

 

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