YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Hundreds of Syrian-Armenians have signed up for buying new and low-cost housing in a special residential district which is due to be constructed for them near Yerevan in the coming years.
The Armenian government has pledged to help build the New Aleppo district in Ashtarak, a town 20 kilometers west of Yerevan, as part of its efforts to help an estimated 10,000 Syrian Armenians who have taken refuge in their ancestral homeland in the last two years. Most of them currently reside in rented apartments in the capital.
The Ashtarak municipality has already set aside 5 hectares of land in the town’s outskirts for the future neighborhood that will consist of a dozen apartment blocks and around 100 houses. Government officials in Yerevan say the 300 or so Syrian Armenian families planning to live there will be able to buy those homes at below-market prices equivalent to half of the construction costs.
The Armenian Ministry of Diaspora, which has initiated and is overseeing the housing project, has not yet specified those costs, saying that its experts are still calculating them together with construction firms.
Firdus Zakarian, a senior ministry official coordinating assistance to Syrian Armenians, expressed confidence on Tuesday that work on the new Ashtarak district will get underway soon even though the Armenian government has yet to raise funds for the construction from private and foreign sources. The government appealed to Armenian businesspeople, the worldwide Armenian Diaspora as well as foreign governments and aid agencies for that purpose earlier this year.
Zakarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the government has so far received only one donation worth $100,000 from Grand Tobacco, an Armenian cigarette manufacturer. He said it has also secured donation pledges from several other local firms.
Peggy Barsumian and her husband Saro are among the Syrian Armenians who hope to settle in New Aleppo. “I find the landscape very beautiful. We love Aleppo very much but nature there is not so beautiful,” she said while visiting the presently rocky site of the would-be district.
“Having a house in Armenia is a good thing,” said Saro. “This place is a bit far away from Yerevan but Aleppo Armenians can make it look like Yerevan.”
Freddy Demirjian, another prospective resident of the planned Ashtarak neighborhood, expressed hope that it will be helped before Syrian Armenians like him run out of their savings. He argued that many of them are struggling to find decent jobs or set up businesses in Armenia.
“We can’t wait for the construction to start,” Demirjian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The sooner it starts the better for us.”
The Ministry of Diaspora hopes that similar residential areas will also be built in at least two other small towns close to Yerevan. Lusine Stepanian, a senior ministry official, said last month that a total of around 600 Syrian Armenian families would like to live in such districts.