Armenia Keeps Its Arms Open to Syrian Refugees
If there was a “little Armenia” in Syria, to borrow Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian’s words, there is also a little Syria in Armenia. The South Caucasus country has taken in 2,500 refugees from Syria just over the summer and continues to hand out visas and Armenian passports to Armenian-Syrians.
Before flooding into the European Union, Syrians, at least those of Armenian heritage, were streaming into Armenia. At 15,500 refugees since the start of the conflict, according to UNHCR and government figures, Armenia ranks as one of the most frequent destinations outside of the European Union for migrant Syrians relative to population, an Economist chart shows.
The mass arrival has been emphatically described as a “homecoming” in Armenia, where national identity is seen as something shared between the country’s residents and its far-flung Diasporas. “There are a 100 small and big Armenias around the world,” Foreign Minister Nalbandian told the BBC’s Russian service in a September 14 interview.
Solidarity with the struggles of Syrian-Armenians runs strong in Armenia, but the government has been struggling to accommodate and integrate thousands of arrivals. Even though the school year already started on September 1, “we try [sic] to find out how many Syrian Armenian children will attend . . . schools,” said Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian, Armenpress.am reported on September 16.
Hakobian estimated that as many as 15,000 ethnic Armenians remain in Syria -- about the same number as currently are in Armenia itself, according to UNHCR. In Aleppo, a traditional hub for Syria’s ethnic Armenians, the Armenian consul, Tigran Kevorkian, claims that his consulate is the only foreign diplomatic mission still functioning. “Three times a week, diplomats drive out to Kessab [another ethnic Armenian population base — ed] and [the port city of] Latakia to provide consular services,” he told News.am recently.
Shelling of the city has damaged and destroyed diaspora cultural sites in the Nor Gyugh, Aleppo’s Armenian quarter, said Gevorkian adding that the consulate has been evacuating cultural-heritage items to Lebanon and Armenia. He also said that his office still provides visas for free to Syrian-Armenian applicants.
With no decrease in the fighting in Syria in sight, Armenian officials expect a continued inflow of migrants from Syria. Building a “New Aleppo,” a residential complex near the capital, Yerevan, is among the projects Armenia is considering to help accommodate the arrivals.