YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — With no end in sight to the bloody civil war in Syria, the exodus of thousands of ethnics Armenians remaining there may be only a matter of time, Armenia’s Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian acknowledged on Wednesday.
Signaling a major policy shift in Yerevan, Hakobian said the Armenian government should now start discussing ways of helping to evacuate Syrian Armenians willing to leave the country and the war-ravaged city of Aleppo in particular.
“Unfortunately, a lot has been lost. What we are hearing now are the last desperate cries,” Hakobian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview on the plight of the once thriving Syrian Armenian community.
“Of course, it would be very good to see calm and peace restored there, to see the community thrive,” she said. “But I am sorry to say I am now more pessimistic about the full-fledged functioning of the community. I think that when lives are at stake they must definitely be saved. There is nothing more important than a life.”
Armenia’s government has faced growing calls for the evacuation of Syrian Armenians in recent weeks amid a worsening security situation in Aleppo, the community’s cultural, religious and economic center. The government has made clear until now that it will not encourage or help them to leave Syria en masse without the consent of the community leadership. The latter remains opposed to such an exodus.
Hakobian’s remarks suggest that the authorities in Yerevan may now reconsider their cautious stance. Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian’s cabinet is due to discuss the situation in Syria on Thursday. Abrahamian said last week that Hakobian will brief cabinet members on “how we can help” Syrian Armenians.
The Diaspora minister said their evacuation from Aleppo and other trouble spots is fraught with serious logistical problems. “Sending money would be the easiest thing,” she said. “The key question is whether anyone would be willing to organize airlifts [to and from Syria] and ensure the security of airplanes. The Armenian Foreign Ministry and the Emergency Situations Ministry should answer this question.”
In the meantime, fighting between Syrian government troops and opposition forces in and around Aleppo is reportedly continuing unabated. Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone, George, an Aleppo Armenian, said city neighborhoods are shelled on a practically daily basis.Asked about the dominant mood among local Armenians, he said, “I can say that the majority wants to get out.”
Syria was home to up to 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most of them descendants of survivors of the 1915 genocide in Ottoman Turkey, before out the outbreak of the bloody conflict in the Arab state. The community has shrunk by more than half in the last four years. Some 13,000 Syrian Armenian nationals currently reside in Armenia.