BOSTON (RFE/RL) — Armenia is ready to receive more ethnic Armenian refugees from Syria and hopes that its affluent Diaspora in the West will assist in their resettlement, President Serzh Sarkisian said during a visit to the United States late on Wednesday.
“Today the Armenian community in Syria stands on the brink of extinction, with Armenian historical-cultural sites being destroyed and looted,” Sarkisian declared at a meeting in Boston with leaders and members of the local Armenian community.
“Let us jointly help the bulk of [the Syrian Armenians] settle in Armenia,” he said. “Of course, it is painful for us to see the destruction of an Armenian community in the Middle East. But maybe it would be the least of evils if the overwhelming majority of that community members established themselves in their [ancestral] homeland. It would be something of a consolation to us.”
“The loss of that once thriving community is really painful for us, but we must do everything in our power to at least help those who have left [Syria] relocate to Armenia,” added Sarkisian.
Syria was home to an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians, virtually all of them descendants of survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey, until the outbreak of the devastating civil war there five years ago. Only up to 10,000 of them reportedly remain in the war-ravaged country now. Many are said to be unable to flee the war zone.
While swiftly granting them residency permits and even citizenship, the authorities in Yerevan have until now refrained from openly encouraging Syrian Armenians to take refuge in their ancestral homeland. They have also resisted domestic calls for the evacuation of the remaining Armenians in Syria. Sarkisian appears to have signaled a change of this policy.
Sarkisian expressed readiness to accept thousands more Syria Armenians even though his cash-strapped government is hardly able to provide large-scale economic assistance to more than 16,000 such refugees currently living in Armenia. Most of them are struggling to find decent jobs and pay for their accommodation. Many also complain of government neglect.
The Armenian president insisted that his administration is doing its best to ensure their “dignified life.” “We quickly grant them citizenship and help them receive free education and medical services, set up businesses and establish themselves in Armenia,” he said.
Sarkisian also praised Armenian-American charities for providing relief aid to Syrian Armenians. But he clearly implied that they should contribute more to the refugees in Armenia.
Yerevan also hopes to secure financial assistance to them from foreign governments and international donor agencies. Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian appealed to the international donor community on Wednesday when he addressed a United Nations conference on the Syrian refugee crisis held in Geneva.