The town of Kessab, Syria
Kessab is located in Syria
Location in Syria
Coordinates: 35°55′30″N 35°59′19″E / 35.92500°N 35.98861°E / 35.92500; 35.98861
Country Syria
750 m (2,460 ft)
 • Total1,754
Time zoneUTC+2 (EET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+3 (EEST)

Kessab (Arabic: كسب [kæsæb]; Armenian: Քեսապ, romanizedKesab), also spelled Kesab or Kasab, is a town in northwestern Syria, administratively part of the Latakia Governorate, located 59 kilometers north of Latakia. It is situated near the border with Turkey on the slope of Mount Aqraa, 800 meters above sea level.[2] According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics, Kessab had a population of 1,754 in the 2004 census.[1] Along with the surrounding villages, the sub-district of Kessab has a total population of around 2,500.[3] Kessab has a dominant Armenian population, which dates back to the medieval ages.

With its mild, moist climate and encirclement by wooded green mountains and deep valleys, Kessab is a favoured vacation resort for Syrians, mainly from Aleppo and Latakia.[2]

Geography and climate

Administratively, Kessab belongs to the Latakia District; one of the governorate's four Manatiq, and the centre of Kessab nahiyah sub-district.

The town of Kessab is 59 kilometres north of Latakia, just 1 kilometre southwest of the border with Turkey (the former Syrian province of Alexandretta), and 7 kilometers east of the Mediterranean Sea.

Located at a height ranging between 650 and 850 above sea level, in the middle of dense coniferous Mediterranean forest, the town is a summer destination for Syrian people and for foreign visitors.

The town is surrounded with many mountains including the mountains of Bashord (857 meters), Dyunag (1008 meters), Dapasa (1006 meters), Chalma (995 meters) and Sildran (1105 metres) from the west, and mount al-Nisr (851 metres) from the south. Jebel Aqra -also known as Mount Casius- at the north, located in the Turkish side next to the borderline, is the highest peak of the Kessab region, with a height of 1709 meters.

Climate data for Kessab
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 7.2
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 1.4
Average precipitation mm (inches) 242
Average snowy days 5 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 12
Source: Weather Online, Weather Base, BBC Weather and My Weather 2, Climate data


Early history

The region of Kessab was part of the ancient civilization that spread from the Syrian coasts up to the Orontes River, six millennia ago. During the Seleucid period the Kessab region was at the centre of the triad comprised by Antioch, Seleucia and Laodicea. The Laodicea-Seleucia coastal road passed by the Karadouran bay whereas the Laodicea-Antioch road passed through the Duzaghaj valley. The Mount Casius at those times, was believed to have been the sanctuary of Zeus. During the reign of the ruler of the short-lived Armenian Empire Tigranes The Great, in the 1st century BC, and later the Roman era, the Syrian coast flourished greatly and had a positive effect on the development of the Kessab region.

There are no written sources about the primitive history of the Kessab region, but the first record of the name of Kessab was mentioned in a historical document dating back to the Crusaders period when Duke Belmont I granted the region of "Kasbisi" to the family of Peter the Hermit. Either Kasbisi, Cassembella or most probably the Latin expression Casa Bella are the names from which "Kessab" was derived.[4][5]

Being located on the borders of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, the region of Kessab was gradually developed by its Armenian migrants. A research published in 2009 by renowned linguist Hagop Cholakian[6] on the peculiarities of the Kessab Armenian dialect and the dialects of the Armenians in the region of Alexandretta and Suweidiyeh, shows that the Armenians of Kessab and the surrounding villages are the remainders of migrants who came from the region of Antioch.[7] The migration of the Armenians to the region increased in the 14th and the 15th centuries, during the Mamluk and the Ottoman periods, in an attempt to avoid persecutions, trying to find much safer mountainous regions such as Kessab and Musa Dagh. The first Armenian refugees settled in the area now called Esguran. After a period they moved uphill and settled in the area now called the town of Kessab, turning it to a centre of the whole region and the destination of new refugees.

During the 1850s Kessab turned into a mission field with the arrival of Evangelical and Catholic missionaries, raising anger among the Armenians of the region who were following the Armenian Apostolic Church. In the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Kessab region was around 6,000 (all Armenians), with more than 20 schools, as a result of denominational and political divisions.

20th century

The first disaster in Kessab took place in April 1909, during the Adana massacre. This calamity cost the Armenians 10,000 deaths and a massive material loss.[8] After the event, Catholicos Sahak I Khabaian visited Kessab.

Traditional Armenian house in Kessab

The Armenian genocide beginning in 1915 proved even more destructive. The command of the genocide initiation arrived in Kessab on the 26th of July to start deportations within 5 days. First, the people expressed a desire to resist and fortify on the mountain Dounag located in Karadouran. Priest Bedros Papoujian-Aprahamian, the priest of Karadouran, particularly supported the idea of the opposition, but on the real ground, the whole idea failed to become a reality. The genocide of the Armenians in Kessab region started from Karadouran. The Armenians were deported in two directions: one towards the desert of Deir ez-Zor and the other towards the south to the desert of Jordan. Almost five thousand Armenians were killed during this deportation process.[9] Some died in Jisr al-Shughur, some in Hama or Homs while others on the way to Damascus or Jordan. The majority of the refugees were killed in the desert of Deir ez-Zor. After the ceasefire, the Armenians who survived the genocide returned to Kessab in a process that lasted till 1920. But the eastern and northern areas of the region remained unsecured, because they were constantly vulnerable to attacks from neighboring Turkish villages. A voluntary group of 40 men successfully foiled many attempts by bandits to invade the region at that time. In 1922, peace was established after the entrance of French troops into Kessab.

On 5 July 1938, the Turkish army entered the Sanjak of Alexandretta and Antioch, in an agreement with the French colonial authorities, and the region was renamed Hatay State. Many Armenians left Kessab for Lebanon or took refuge in the mountains. Many important personalities visited Kessab during that time. On 23 June 1939, the Hatay government was officially dissolved and the whole region became part of Turkey. By the efforts of the Armenian community of Paris, Cardinal Krikor Bedros Aghajanian and the Papal representative to Syria and Lebanon Remi Leprert, many parts of Kessab inhabited by Armenians were separated from Turkey and placed within the Syrian boundaries.[10] The result of the annexation of the Sanjak of Alexandretta proved disastrous for the Armenians of Kessab: Mount Casius was attached to the Turkish side including their farms, properties, laurel tree forests and the grazing lands located in the mountain's bosoms and valleys that once used to belong to the native Armenians. Besides, with this annexation, the Armenians of the town were also deprived from their traditional and historical Barlum Monastery, where the inhabitants used to celebrate the feast of Surp Asdvadzadzin (feast of Virgin Mary) during August of each year.

Syrian Civil War

See also: 2014 Latakia offensive

Jebel Aqra overlooking Kessab from Turkey

In the early hours of 21 March 2014, Kessab and its surrounding villages saw a multi-pronged attack by forces opposed to the Syrian government. It was reported that the attackers, members of the al-Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam, and Ansar al-Sham, advanced directly from Turkish territory, were being supported by the Turkish military, and that injured rebel fighters were being sent to medical centres in Turkey. Some Kessab village guards reported that the Turkish military withdrew from its positions along the border shortly before the fighters crossed from Turkey. Mehmet Ali Ediboğlu, MP of Turkish CHP party, who visited the area several days after the attack began, said that villagers on the Turkish side of the border told him that "thousands of fighters coming from Turkey crossed the border at at least five different points to launch the attack on Kassab". The fighters reportedly crossed into Syria from the village of Gözlekçiler, close to the border. Journalists were barred from visiting Gözlekçiler. Ediboğlu was also barred from approaching the border by Turkish soldiers but wrote of seeing "dozens of Syrian-plated cars nonstop transporting terrorists from the military road between Gözlekçiler village and our military base at Kayapinar."[11] The civilian populations of Kessab and its surrounding villages either fled or were evacuated, with most seeking safety in Latakia, and Kessab came under the control of rebel groups.[12][13] On 23 March, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian fighter jet over Kessab that had been flying a support mission to assist Syrian army ground forces. The fighter crashed into Kessab. Turkey claimed that the jet had violated Turkish airspace, while Syria denied this. Turkish MP and CHP Party opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu claimed that the Syrian jet was a reconnaissance plane and that its downing was part of a government scheme to provoke war with Syria to divert attention from corruption scandals enveloping Turkey's president Erdogan and his party. Journalist Amberin Zaman wrote that leaked tapes in which Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, is heard discussing ways to spark a war with Syria might vindicate Kilicdaroglu's claims.[14][15]

General view of the Kessab region in June 2013
Misakian Cultural Centre of the Armenian Evangelical School in Kessab, burnt and destroyed by the Islamist rebels in March 2014 (photo taken in August 2017)

On 2 April, during a hearing before the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and in response to a question by Congressman Schiff, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, said that Kessab "is an issue of huge concern". Congressman Schiff noted that many of the residents were descendants of victims of the Armenian Genocide and that "there is a particular poignancy to their being targeted in this manner."[16] On 3 April Armenia's Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan said that 38 of Kessab's Armenian inhabitants had been captured when the town fell to the rebels, 24 of them were later released, 3 had been forcefully taken into Turkey and were now in the village of Vaqif, and that 670 Armenian families had been displaced after the attack on Kessab, with about 400 of the families now in Latakia. The minister also said that in Kessab Armenian churches had been defaced, crosses on the churches had been removed, and property looted.[17] Also on 3 April, Ruben Melkonyan, deputy dean of the Oriental Studies department at Yerevan State University, said that the Armenian community of Kessab was unlikely to recover and that what had happened were "crimes that make a genocide".[18]

On 15 June 2014, the Syrian Army entered Kessab and retook control over the surrounding villages and the border with Turkey.[19] News agencies and local residents of Kessab reported that the town's Armenian Catholic and Evangelical churches had been ruined and burnt by the Islamist groups, along with the Misakyan Cultural Centre.[20][21][22] Around 250 families from Kessab who had taken refuge in Latakia returned to their homes a day after the Syrian Army recaptured the town.[23][24] On July 25, the Holy Mother of God Church of Karadouran was reconsecrated, with the first liturgy since the ending of the Islamist occupation taking place on July 27, the day of Vardavar, an Armenian holiday, and attended by a large number of people.[25]


Misakian Armenian Cultural Centre in Kessab before its destruction

The population of Kessab and the surrounding villages are mainly involved in agriculture. The Armenians of the region have their own dialect of the Armenian language, which is still in use even among the new generation.

The number of Kessab visitors usually grows during summers especially in the month of August, when a lot of Armenians arrive in the mountainous town, to celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary. Many groups of Armenian scout movements visit Kessab to attend their summer camping programmes.

Starting from the 1990s, town had witnessed a construction booming with the inauguration of several hotels, houses and the renovation of the existing churches.

The town is known for its laurel soaps and apples.[citation needed]

Armenians from Kessab performing traditional dances


As of 2017, Kessab is home to the following schools:


Holy Mother of God Armenian Apostolic Church
Holy Trinity Armenian Evangelical Church
Saint Michael the Archangel Armenian Catholic Church
The Mosque of Kessab

The population is mainly Armenian.[26] The Armenian community in Kessab dates back to the medieval ages.[27] In late 19th century, German orientalist and traveler Martin Hartmann noted Kessab as a settlement of 200 houses populated by Armenians.[28]

Places of interest

The town of Kessab is home to 3 Armenian churches:

The town is also home to an Alawite mosque built in the early 1970s.

Churches in the nearby villages:[29]

Notable people


See also


  1. ^ a b General Census of Population and Housing 2004. Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Latakia Governorate. (in Arabic)
  2. ^ a b Guide Arabe Pour Le Commerce, L'industrie & Les Professions Libérales Dans Les Pays Arabes. (1972). Page 12.
  3. ^ "Kessab nahiyah population". Archived from the original on 2013-01-12. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  4. ^ Kessab in our Hearts
  5. ^ One of Syria's “magnificent” forests is abolished… Who should we blame?
  6. ^ Armenian dialects after the Genocide
  7. ^ Research on Kessab Armenian dialect published by Hagop Cholakian, Armenian National Academy of Sciences
  8. ^ History of Kessab by Vahe Apelian
  9. ^ "Kessab population". Kessabi Armenians for Kessab.
  10. ^ "أرمن قرى كسب". 8 August 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  11. ^ Fall of Kassab will be costly for Turkey
  12. ^ Kessab Targeted by Al-Qaeda Front Groups in Cross-Border Attack from Turkey." The Armenian Weekly. March 23, 2014.
  13. ^ "Rebels Reassure Christians After Capturing Key Syrian Border Town". Time Magazine. 28 April 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  14. ^ Fear of war grips Turkish border province
  15. ^ Turkish opposition leader says Erdogan wants war with Syria
  16. ^ Samantha Power Questioned About Kessab, Syria by Rep. Schiff Archived 2014-12-31 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Minister Of Diaspora: Armenian Churches Were Defaced In Kessab
  18. ^ "Armenian expert in Turkish affairs accuses West of inaction over Kessab Armenians". 3 April 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  19. ^ "Syria recaptures border crossing". Irish Independent. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  20. ^ "Photos of ruined Armenian churches of Kessab appear in internet". Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  21. ^ "Syrian Armenians: Terrorists burnt all Armenian churches in Kessab". Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  22. ^ Says, Carpenter. "Armenia – Rebels Robbing Homes, Desecrating Churches in Kessab, Syria - SHOAH". Archived from the original on 4 May 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  23. ^ "250 families return to Kessab". 17 June 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  24. ^ "Residents of Syria's Kessab returning home after liberation - Islamic Invitation Turkey". Archived from the original on 31 December 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  25. ^ Armenian Church of Kessab Was Re-consecrated., 28 July 2014.
  26. ^ Mannheim, Ivan (2001). Syria and Lebanon Handbook: The Travel Guide. Footprint Travel Guides. p. 299. ISBN 1-900949-90-3.
  27. ^ Mollica, Marcello; Hakobyan, Arsen (27 October 2021). Syrian Armenians and the Turkish Factor: Kessab, Aleppo and Deir Ez-Zor in the Syrian War. Springer International Publishing. p. 209.
  28. ^ Hartmann, Martin (1891). "Das Liwa el-Ladkije und die Nahije Urdu (Schluss.)". Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins. 14. JSTOR: 243. JSTOR 27928611. Retrieved 4 December 2022.
  29. ^ "Kessab Villages". Kessabi Armenians Website.
  30. ^ "CONSECRATION OF ST. MARY'S CHURCH IN KARADURAN". Holy See of Cilicia. Archived from the original on 2008-08-28.
  31. ^ "Pontifical visit of Catholicos Aram I to Syria". Azad Hye Middle East Armenian Portal. Archived from the original on 2011-07-05.

Further reading