YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Syrian-Armenians remaining in Aleppo are calling on Armenia to help evacuate them from the war-ravaged city where deadly fighting between Syrian government troops and opposition fighters intensified in recent days.
Opposition forces reportedly shelled late last week Aleppo’s western Suleymaniya district mostly populated by Armenians and other Christians. News reports from Syria spoke of severe devastation and heavy casualties among civilians caused by shells and rockets.
The fighting made life even more unbearable for thousands of Syrian Armenians remaining in what has for decades been the center of their once prosperous community in the Middle Eastern state. A growing number of them now seem desperate to take refuge in Armenia or other countries. Some have appealed to the authorities in Yerevan directly or through their relatives living outside the war zone.
“We are only asking the Armenian government to help transport us to Yerevan,” said Hranush Arakelian, a middle-aged Armenian woman trapped in Aleppo with one of her daughters and three other family members, including a toddler.
“We came under heavy fire the day before yesterday,” Arakelian said in a phone conversation with her second daughter living in Yerevan. “The Christian district was shelled and all people went underground. They are now pulling dead and injured people out of the rubble.
“There are no Armenians among the dead. But quite a few of them were wounded,” she added.
“They just can’t stay there anymore,” the Yerevan-based daughter, Narine Sarkisian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am.) “Only God knows how they survived this winter.”
Arakelian said that both her family and many other Aleppo Armenians want to flee the besieged city but have no money to pay for a journey to safer parts of Syria under government control.
“Many people would like to get out but they have no money for doing that,” confirmed Nazik Tatoyan, another Armenian woman from Aleppo, who took refuge in Armenia together with her family last year. She said the family had to sell its car to flee the city.
Responding to the appeals, a senior official at the Diaspora Ministry in Yerevan dealing with Syrian Armenian refugees said Armenia’s government cannot move to evacuate people from Aleppo en masse without a decision officially made by community leaders in Syria.
“The wishes of several individuals are not enough,” Firdus Zakarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We need a decision by the majority [of community members.]”
Zakarian revealed at the same time that Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian has instructed the government to prepare for the evacuation of Armenian children from Aleppo. But he did not go into details.