Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011, more than 17 thousand Syrian citizens of Armenian descent have arrived in Armenia
WASHINGTON – Ethnic Armenians who fled from Syria return to their historical homeland – Armenia, where they are met, found accommodation and granted citizenship for several months.
Their journey is in stark contrast to the revelations faced by millions of other Syrian refugees who, after long and dangerous wanderings, find refuge in a foreign land with great difficulty, mainly in Greece or Turkey..
“Armenia is the homeland of all people of Armenian descent,” says civil activist Ara Sisserian, who lives in Yerevan and works to protect the rights of refugees from Syria. The Armenians who flee here from Syria do so because they consider this country their homeland. “.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than 17,000 Syrian citizens of Armenian descent have arrived in Armenia. According to the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCP), more than 80 percent of them remained and found protection in Armenia..
According to analysts, these numbers are minimal compared to the total number of Syrians who fled the country, which is 3 million. This makes the process of settling refugees in Armenia more manageable..
90 Armenian churches were destroyed
The history of the emergence of Christian Armenians in Syria goes back centuries. The ancestors of many families arrived in the country, fleeing persecution during the Ottoman Empire. They have settled in cities such as Raqqa, Hasake and Aleppo for hundreds of years. But, according to analysts, when the civil war in Syria began, the Armenians faced persecution on religious grounds and on social grounds..
“The Armenian population has dropped dramatically,” Priest Harutyun Selimyan, head of the organization to help the Syrian Armenians in Aleppo, told Voice of America. “Their rights are being violated and their lives are at risk. Ninety Armenian churches were completely or partially destroyed “.
Armenians face greatest danger in areas under Islamic State control.
“With the emergence of extremists, the last thing you want to do is to be part of the non-Muslim minority in Syria,” explains Sisseryan..
ISIS fighters have imposed a number of strict restrictions on Christians, forcing them to adhere to the Muslim dress code and pay a special tax. ISIS also confiscated Christian land and used them as human shields to defend their positions against coalition forces and Syrian warplanes in Raqqa and elsewhere..
“Christians are the most vulnerable social group in the country,” said Husam Issa, an activist with a group of volunteers with Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which monitors ISIS in the city..
Paths to freedom
The first refugees arrived in Armenia in late July and early August 2012 from Syrian Aleppo, a city with 40,000 Armenian diaspora.
“The main route of arrival was weekly direct flights: Aleppo-Yerevan,” says Sarkis Balkyan, board member of the American “Charity Organization of Compatriots”.
After the international airport in Aleppo was closed in 2013, leaving the country has become much more difficult. Now Syrian Armenians, like other Syrian refugees, are using smuggled road routes. Typically, refugees head to Lebanon rather than Turkey due to the historically difficult relations between Armenia and Turkey.
Syria’s Armenians Return to Their Ancestral Homeland
Once in Lebanon, the Syrian Armenians turn to a social organization created by the Armenians, which is funded by donations from the Armenian diaspora in Europe and the United States..
“Our local Armenian leaders asked us to stay, but my husband and I lost patience and fled Aleppo at the end of December,” Adriana Assenian, a refugee from Aleppo who recently settled in Yerevan, told Voice of America. – We drove up by car right to the very border. With the help of the Armenian refugee network, we managed to cross the border. After spending almost three months in Lebanon, we flew to Armenia, ”she adds..
Adriana says that now, away from ISIS fighters, she feels safe. She and her husband have applied for Armenian citizenship and hope to get it within a few months..
United Nations seeks to increase funding for refugee assistance programs, claiming about $ 6.4 million is needed in this case for resettlement assistance.
According to activists, despite the recent outbreak of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, which became the most serious since 1994, Syrian Armenians continue to leave Syria and return to their ancestral homeland..
“For them, Armenia is still better than Syria or other countries affected by conflicts,” Sisseryan says..