Kessab, a town in Syria just a mile from the Turkish border which is populated nearly entirely by Christian Armenians, was invaded on March 21, 2014. It is believed that the town was seized by people from three Islamic militant groups: Jabhat al-Nusra, Sham al-Islam, and Ansar al-Sham. More than 600 families have fled the town to seek refuge in Latakia. This event has particular significance to the international Armenian community because it has occurred just one month before the commemoration day of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
Armenian diaspora started the hashtag #SaveKessab in an effort to bring attention to the events in Kessab. But the hashtag has been used for more than raising international awareness; it has also been used to spread misinformation and propaganda about the events in Kessab. Many Armenians, and their allies, are posting inflammatory tweets and articles that are aggravating the already-tense situation.
There have been reports that over 80 Armenians have been killed, but there have been only 2 confirmed Armenian casualties. There have also been reports of churches being desecrated and demolished by the extremist groups (as seen in the photo above, of a soldier allegedly destroying a cross in a church in Kessab). It has also been publicized that some of those fleeing from Kessab saw shots being fired from the Turkish side of the border. Some images, supposedly of the violence occurring in Kessab, have been circulated widely via Twitter. One image being used by the #SaveKessab movement is supposedly of a Christian Syrian girl who was gruesomely murdered and has a crucifix shoved down her throat. It has been revealed that this image was actually from a horror movie by filmmaker Remy Couture (the image is really gory but you can see it here, as well as the information that proves its actual origin). Another image, of a young girl who has be decapitated, has also been used by the #SaveKessab movement, but it was proven that the girl was the victim of an attack in 2012 and not of the recent attacks in Kessab (note: the image at the link is also very gory). Gruesome videos, supposedly of the violence in Kessab, have also been released by activist groups but very few (if any) have been confirmed as accurate.
Armenian American celebrities have also played a central role in spreading this misinformation. Kim Kardashian, a reality television and social media personality who gained popularity in 2007 after the leak of her sex tape with Ray J, tweeted in support of #SaveKessab to her 21.3 million followers.
Cher, an Armenian American singer and actress sometimes called the “Goddess of Pop”, also tweeted a more inflammatory statement about the events in Kessab to her 2.16 million followers. Her tweet claimed that the perpetrators of violence in Kessab are Turkish, which is unconfirmed.
Despite the debunking of many of the images and videos being circulated by the #SaveKessab movement, neither Kim Kardashian nor Cher have posted a retraction of their previous #SaveKessab tweets or drawn attention to the misinformation. As is made obvious by an article posted by The Daily Beast, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian have become sources for news and therefore if they spread misinformation (even unintentionally) they are villified by the press. As stated: from Jadaliyya
“Making Kardashian the fall girl for misinforming the public about Kessab merely highlighted the way in which celebrities rather than experts are looked to as purveyors of knowledge in an environment of anti-intellectualism. After all, the mainstream media quoted Twitter, Facebook pages of pro-opposition activists, lobbyists, and celebrities in search of the Kessab story which is hardly rigorous journalism.”
The #SaveKessab movement reveals how social media networks such as Twitter can be used to fuel a “propaganda war”, and how social media movements become co-opted by mainstream news networks which do not do the appropriate background research. This leads to the widespread dissemination of misinformation that contributes to political discourse. In the case of #SaveKessab, despite the U.S. government’s inability to verify the source of the photos and videos supposedly being released from Kessab, there was still bipartisan support to make a strong statement on Kessab.