YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — John Heffern, the U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, said on Thursday that he has discussed with Armenian officials the plight of ethnic Armenians remaining in Syria in the context of planned U.S. air strikes against Islamic State militants operating there.

President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday a “systematic campaign of air strikes against these terrorists” controlling large parts of Syria as well as neighboring Iraq. The announcement raised fears in Armenia of retaliatory attacks by the radical Islamists against the Syrian Armenian community.

Heffern was asked by journalists to comment on those concerns. “I can tell you that I have discussed this question with your government,” he said. “Washington is very, very much aware of the presence and problems of Christian minorities and other minorities in Syria.”

Heffern declined to reveal any details of that discussion. He argued that relations between the United States and Armenia are his main area of responsibility. “And I’m just not an expert on those [Syrian] issues,” added the diplomat.

There were an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians in Syria before the outbreak of the bloody civil war there three years ago. The community is thought to have at least shrunk by half since then. More than 10,000 Syrian citizens of Armenian descent have taken refuge in Armenia.

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