Armenia Builds a New Aleppo
To make sure exiles from Syria feel at home in Armenia, the government has commissioned the construction of an entire settlement called New Aleppo.
Located 20 kilometers shy of the capital, Yerevan, the residential project will accommodate some of the thousands of Syrians of Armenian descent, who escaped the war in Syria.
New Aleppo, named in honor of the wartorn northern Syrian city that houses most of Syria's ethnic Armenian population, will sit on 4.8 hectares (some 11 acres) of land in the industrial town of Ashtarak. Armenia's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs reports that some 600 families have expressed willingness to move into the development's apartments. They will be expected to pay half the cost of the flats; the authorities and charity groups are expected to pick up the rest of the tab. With some 7,000 Syrian-Armenians now seeking residency in Armenia, the government says that more Syrian quarters will be popping up across the country as well.
The Syrian Diaspora, estimated to be over 100,000-strong, descends from ethnic Armenians who fled World-War-I-era massacres in Ottoman Turkey. Now, a century later, the bloody rebellion in Syria has driven the community back to what is considered their ancestral homeland.
Some commentators say that preserving the Armenian community in Syria should be the main priority for Yerevan. Fears exist that the Diaspora exodus could reduce Armenia’s ability to exert any influence in the Middle East, long seen as an important Diaspora outpost.
But as long as Aleppo is not safe, the Armenian government is likely to continue building New Aleppos. The Armenian Diasporas are considered part of a larger Armenian family, even if they have been continents and centuries away from the Armenian state.
Yerevan has been fast-tracking visas and residency permits, facilitating employment and social adaptation for the arrivals from Syria, often described as returnees. The projects pose a financial burden for the cash-strapped country, but the authorities hope that the influx of ethnic Armenians will help boost Armenia's shrinking population and contribute fresh entrepreneurial ideas to its economy.
After all, in Armenia, as elsewhere in the South Caucasus, blood ties are everything.