YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Armenians living in and outside Syria must avoid taking sides in the continuing bloody conflict in the Arab state, President Serzh Sarkisian said over the weekend.

In that regard, Sarkisian ridiculed calls for the dispatch of Armenian armed units to Syria with the aim of fighting Islamist rebels that seized the Armenian-populated town of Kessab and displaced its almost entire population late last month. “That would be the biggest stupidity, that would be the easiest way to endanger our country,” he told members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in Yerevan.

“Even some very distinguished people buy into that adventurism from time to time. We have not finished our own fight. He who wants to fight should join our 18-year-old soldiers and fight with them,” he said in reference to the unresolved Karabakh conflict.

“Even the Armenians in Syria must stay neutral. The Armenians cannot become a [conflicting] party,” Sarkisian added in remarks reported by his press office.

Islamist militants, among them members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, caused bout 2,000 ethnic Armenian residents of Kessab to flee their homes when they drove Syrian government troops out of the town on March 23. The displacement caused an uproar in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora, with political activists and media commentators there accusing the rebels of ethnic cleansing. Some in Armenia and Karabakh went further, calling for Armenian military support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces fighting in the Kessab area.

An estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most of the descendants of survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey, lived in Syria before the outbreak of the conflict two years ago. Tens of thousands of them have fled the country since then. About 10,000 Syrian Armenians have taken refuge in Armenia

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