The Armenian community in Glendale is reacting with anger to the takeover by rebels of the Syrian town of Kasab near the Turkish border that is home to about 2,500 Armenian Christians.
Many Armenians consider the region to be historically part of their homeland. The Syrian rebel forces who overran the town came in through the Turkish border in March, prompting inhabitants to flee the violence.
The takeover also was a painful reminder of the Armenian genocide, demonstrators said in Glendale, which is preparing to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the genocide later this month.
"This is where I spent my childhood and it hits home. My grandfather's house is being looted. My aunt's house is being looted," said Lena Bozoyan, executive board chairman of the Glendale-based Armenian Relief Society Western USA. "We as a Christian nation, we as the believers of the free, we, a democratic people and country, are not saying a word. This is outrageous."
Plenty is being said, however, on social media, where debate and protest over the incursion has raged.
A Glendale youth organization joined the fray, creating a campaign featuring the hashtag #SaveKessab, which got the attention of thousands of Twitter and Facebook users, including celebrities Kim Kardashian and Cher, as well as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the Glendale News-Press reported.
Protestors have demonstrated in front of the Turkish Embassy in Los Angeles, as well as the Armenian Consulate in Glendale.
Local Armenians have long been engaged with the situation in Syria, where family and friends have been enduring a prolonged period of civil war. The Syrian Armenian Relief Fund, launched in 2012 in partnership with the Armenian Relief Society and other Armenian philanthropic groups, has sent tens of thousands of dollars abroad in assistance.
Last week, the fund sent roughly $100,000 to Kasab refugees.
But as news spreads about the city's fate through social media, critics fear the #SaveKessab movement is contributing to the spread of misinformation — especially false YouTube videos of mass killings — diluting long-running efforts to get the Armenian genocide recognized worldwide.
Information from the U.S. State Department about what's happening in Kasab is sparse, but last week a spokeswoman said department officials were "deeply troubled" by recent fighting and violence against the Syrian Armenian communities.
That lack of information has created a void that critics say has been filled with misinformation, some of which has been spread by concerned Armenian groups.
Caspar Jivalagian, chairman of the Armenian Youth Federation Western Region USA in Glendale, which created the hashtag, said despite criticism of the #SaveKessab campaign his organization's goal was to spread awareness of the innocent suffering during the war.
"Maybe there is misinformation being spread, but it's not being done by our organization," he said. "There is distress in the region and the youth are not turning a blind eye."
Glendale resident Garo Ghazarian, who is chairman of the Armenian Bar Assn., said he is traveling to the region soon. His relatives were among the dozens of Kasab residents who stayed behind during the takeover.
But when his uncle recently called their home Kasab unfamiliar voices answered the phone, saying in Arabic: "This is our house now."
Since word of Ghazarian's planned journey has spread through the local Armenian community, he has been receiving dozens of emails from people asking him to find their relatives, too.
"The purpose of me going there is to see that individuals are safe," Ghazarian said. "I am unable to work. I'm better off going there. Even if I can do one thing, it would be one better thing than sitting here."