Syria

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Important memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide in the Der El Zor Desert, where many of the survivors of the death marches perished.

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Armenian Ambassador describes Syrian-Armenian relations as deep-rooted

November 06, 2007 DAMASCUS, SANA- Armenian Ambassador in Damascus Archad Boladian stressed importance of the bilateral relations between Syria and Armenia in various domains, expressing his country's desire to bolster these relations in the interest of both countries.

In a statement to SANA reporter Tuesday on the occasion of Armenia's National Day, Boladian said that "Syria and Armenia are linked with historical ties", He asserted that the two countries hold political consultations and coordination at the international forums and organizations.

He stressed Syria's pivotal role regarding the pending issues in the region, pointing out that Syria seeks to find peaceful solutions to all issues on regional and international levels, stressing Syria's and Armenia's identical views on this regard.

He said that chairman of the Armenian-Syrian joint committee heading a high level delegation will be visiting Damascus to chair his country's side in the meetings of the 4th session of the joint committee.

H.Zain/ Idelbi

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Arab Spring

More Armenians Flee Syria Amid Fighting In Aleppo

Naira Bulghadarian 25.07.2012

Ethnic Armenians continued to flee Syria on Wednesday as heavy fighting intensified in Aleppo, the country’s second largest city and economic and cultural center of its 80,000-strong Armenian community.

About 170 of them arrived in Yerevan on board a Syrian Air aircraft early in the morning. The plane flew back to Aleppo shortly afterwards as Syrian government troops reportedly massed around the city partly controlled by rebels.

News reports citing Syrian opposition sources said that the Syrian army pounded rebel fighters there with artillery and attack helicopters throughout Tuesday. According to Reuters, the rebels battled government forces by the gates of the historic old city.

“When we reached the airport the situation was very chaotic. There was gunfire,” said Tsovinar Khangikian, an Armenian woman from Aleppo who arrived at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport together with her sister and their children.

“Until now things were fine. There were some problems around [Aleppo] but things were quiet in the city,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) before bursting into tears.

“We have fled shelling,” said Khangikian’s tearful sister. “We have come here to take some rest and then return and carry on with our life.”

Both women said they left their husbands behind to look after their properties in Aleppo.

Speaking on camera, other Aleppo Armenians painted less dramatic pictures of the crisis in Syria. “We are having hard but not catastrophic times,” said one man. “Our army is strong.”

Officials from the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora were for the first time on hand to give the arriving Syrian information booklets and asking them to fill out questionnaires on their personal data and the length and purpose of their stay in Armenia.

About 100 other Syrian nationals, virtually all of them ethnic Armenian, boarded Syrian Air’s return flight to Aleppo despite the apparently worsening situation in and around the city. About half of them were young people who travelled to Armenia two weeks ago to participate in a festival organized by the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), a leading Diaspora charity.

Margarit Avetian, another returning passenger, left Syria early this month to receive Armenian citizenship. “The situation seems to be a bit worse than it was before we came to Armenia,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Avetian got her Armenian passport after what she described as a bureaucratic hassle in Yerevan. “The bottom line is that I got it. I’m pleased and proud to have a passport,” she said, adding that she and her relatives are increasingly contemplating a permanent move to Armenia.

According to immigration authorities in Yerevan, some 6,000 Syrian Armenians have applied for Armenian citizenship since the start of a popular uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in early 2011. Some of them are thought to have already taken refuge in their ancestral homeland. There is no government data on the number of such persons, though.

Hampig Shimshirian, a businessman from Damascus, also arrived at Zvartnots on Wednesday. Shimshirian said he owns a clothing factory and two houses in the Syrian capital and is now planning to stay in Armenia with his family for good. “We always wanted to settle in Armenia and the war has accelerated our move,” he explained.

Harut Kakajian, another businessman, imported Chinese toys to Syria and neighboring Lebanon before settling in Yerevan with his family last week. “Business [in Syria] has come to a halt,” he said. “There are goods but nobody buys them.”

Kakajian acknowledged that doing business and finding other work in Armenia is also challenging. “If there were jobs here there would be more people moving here,” he said.

The Armenian government is being increasingly accused by domestic opposition and other groups of providing little assistance to Syria’s Armenian community and especially its members relocating to Armenia. Government officials reject the criticism.

“Relevant government bodies are prepared to provide all kinds of assistance to those Armenians who come to Armenia,” insisted Firdus Zakarian, head of a Ministry of Diaspora task force that was set up recently to deal with the refugee influx.

Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday, Zakarian dismissed opposition calls for the government to make contingency plans for evacuating Syrian Armenians en masse. He said such an operation could only spread panic in the community. The situation in Syria still does not warrant an Armenian exodus, the official said.

Still, Zakarian’s ministry did ask the Armavia national airline last week to increase the frequency of its weekly Yerevan-Aleppo flights and lower the price of their tickets. Armavia replied that it is ready to do that if it receives financial support from the government.

Also last week, Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian met with representatives of major Diaspora Armenian charities, including the AGBU, to discuss ways of helping the Syrian Armenians. According to Zakarian, they expressed readiness to provide financial and other assistance.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Armenians in Syria

Posted by Nanore Barsoumian on February 16, 2012

ALEPPO, Syria (A.W.)—Two suicide car bombs targeting Syrian regional military and security headquarters shook Aleppo on Feb. 10, claiming 28 victims, among them army conscript Viken Hairabedian. The explosion was one of the worst instances of violence to hit the country since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad began in March 2011. Hairabedian’s death shocked the Syrian-Armenian community, which has thus far maintained an official line of neutrality, although unofficially many support the Assad government. As the most recent attack demonstrated, violence is moving closer to major cities like Aleppo and Damascus where thousands of Armenians call home.

The Armenian Weekly this week reached out to Syrian-Armenians to shed light on the challenges facing Syrian Christians, in general, and Armenians, specifically.

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Syrian-Armenians want to be optimistic about the community’s future. “We always hear the sound of explosions and tank shells, but we are safe—at least for now,” said one activist, who spoke with the Weekly on condition of anonymity.

The Armenian community—and, in general, the Syrian Christian community that makes up roughly 8-10 percent of the population—is weary of the uncertain future. “They are facing a new phase. Armenians, like all minorities in the country, are vulnerable and fear a collapse of the security structures in Syria,” Nora Arissian, a historian and lecturer at Damascus University, told the Weekly.

Fr. Karekin Bedourian, who traveled to Syria in November 2011, observed how lives had been put on hold and a general atmosphere of fear dominated every activity. “We could not travel from city to city without concern for our safety. The rebels were everywhere. They were even persecuting those who were not joining them and participating in the protests,” he said.

“In the past, we used to travel at night throughout the country without any fear, even in cities considered fanatically Islamic. Now, people are afraid to come out in their own cities,” he added.

Originally from Aleppo, Fr. Bedourian recently moved to North Andover, Mass., where he is the pastor of St. Gregory Armenian Church.

The insecurity Bedourian describes hit closer to home for Armenians about a week before Hairabedian’s death, when another young Armenian man, Kevork Chubukchian, was abducted in Aleppo. His kidnappers have demanded a large sum of money for his release.

Chubukchian “was targeted perhaps not for his identity, but most likely for his wealth,” said a Syrian Armenian from Aleppo (hereafter referred to as T.N.). The blame cannot rest squarely on the shoulders of the opposition, he explained, as the Syrian government is ultimately responsible for the security in the country. “The government is not only failing to do its job, but it is also killing civilians,” he said, and accused authorities of freeing criminals under the guise of “general amnesty for political prisoners,” while, in reality, most political prisoners remain behind bars.

“The regime thinks that when the level of fear rises, the demand for security will overshadow the demand for freedom,” T.N. said.

Fr. Bedourian, however, lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the opposition. The rebels do not comprehend the true meaning of freedom and patriotism, he said, and instead choose to act as pawns in the hands of foreign governments, and take arms against their own.

A neutral course

Despite high tensions and increasing violence, the Syrian-Armenian community strives to navigate a neutral course. It has refrained from taking an official and public position, although members continuously voice their willingness to stand by the government—regardless of who holds power—for the sake of peace and stability, said T.N.

Historian Ara Sanjian believes there is nothing the Syrian Armenians can do in this internal conflict. “They only need to save their heads, and hope that the lightning won’t strike them too hard,” he told the Weekly.

“The community does not have faith in the alternative, and thus it is attached to this regime—especially because they have the example of Iraq right in front of their eyes. Saddam was a ruthless dictator, but he kept certain elements—especially religious extremist—in his country in check. Now, they’ve been let loose, and the violence is widespread,” said Sanjian, adding that as a result, half of Iraq’s Christian population has fled and will most likely never return. The Americans did not anticipate some of the consequences when they decided to invade the country in 2003, he said. “Now there is an attempt to establish some sort of American-style freedom… but in the process a centuries-old Christian culture in the country is being erased.”

What happened to Iraq’s Christians is in Assad’s favor, Sanjian explained, because Syrians see what happened post-Saddam. “They prefer to put up with the current regime and enjoy social freedoms, rather than turn into another Iraq. Those freedoms may disappear tomorrow if the Muslim Brotherhood or other hard-line Sunni Muslim groups come to power.”

In fact, according to T.N., some Syrian Armenians have vocalized their support for Assad by taking to the streets in pro-government rallies, while a few are working for the Syrian intelligence service, reporting on the activities of fellow Armenians.

Members of the Syrian-Armenian community would face a heavy-handed response if they were to veer off course, and voice support for the opposition: Dissenters would be labeled “traitors” and fall victim to a “witch hunt,” he said.

T.N. believes the path of neutrality is the wisest choice. “Any wrong step could cost innocent lives now or in the future. We must have the Lebanese-Armenian community as an example during that country’s 15 years of civil war. If you can stay neutral, that is the best option. If you can’t, try to put your eggs in more than one basket.”

Yet, some Armenians in the community have joined the opposition. A Syrian Armenian activist from Raqqa, 27-year-old Jimmy Shahinian, was imprisoned by authorities after he was accused of being part of the opposition. Shahinian was freed on Dec. 19.

The question of how much support the opposition enjoys is a contentious one among the Syrian-Armenians interviewed for this piece, as many believe the majority of Syrians are too fearful to voice their position.

While T.N. asserts the rebels enjoy the sympathy and support of broad segments of the public, another activist, who wished to remain anonymous, said the real numbers of opposition supporters are unknown, since many avoid speaking out. “Perhaps 20 percent of Syrians are openly opposed to the system,” she said. “An equal proportion are supporters of the regime, and the rest of us are afraid to express our views.”

“You should know that the website of the Armenian Weekly will be closed in Syria if you write anything against the system or the Mukhabarat [the Syrian intelligence service] in your article,” she added.

Revolution or reform

Arissian, who is a member of the Arab Writers’ Union, thinks the uprisings stemmed from corruption and economic hardships affecting a segment of Syrian society. Assad responded to the initial discontent by signing new laws and assembling a committee tasked with rewriting the Syrian Constitution. “These reforms would transfer Syria into a multi-party political system,” she said.

Unlike Arissian, Sanjian is skeptical about any real reform taking root in Syria. Although he believes that Assad may be more generous in guaranteeing social freedoms for the country’s inhabitants than a successor regime—likely to be dominated by hard-line Sunni Islamists—he is unhappy with the way the issue of reform has been tackled by the government so far.

The Syrian government and its security agencies have long infiltrated every aspect of Syrian society. Since the uprisings began, the government has been on the offensive, accusing rebels of being foreign agents. “I still don’t have much faith in the proposed reforms because there have not been many practical steps, or even a widely publicized national debate on the matter,” Sanjian said.

For T.N., what is happening is no less than a full-blown revolution, and it is a breakthrough for a public used to the watchful eye of the secret intelligence services. “It broke the wall of fear and silence, and people started to talk about taboos,” he said.

Foreign intervention

Regardless of their position, most Syrian-Armenians seem apprehensive of foreign intervention, believing that Syrians’ interests do not factor prominently in the calculations of foreign governments.

Specifically, Turkey’s role in supporting the opposition is a cause for concern for many Syrian-Armenians. “Turkey is creating problems,” said Fr. Bedourian, adding that he distrusts the Turkish position and believes there is an element of “evil” in Turkey’s policies towards Syria. During his visit to the country in November, Fr. Bedourian frequently heard news and anecdotes about Syrian citizens who trained in Turkey for months before returning to Syria and joining the opposition. Some of those were apprehended by Syrian authorities, he said.

Syrian opposition members have formed a semi-official government in exile, the Syrian National Council (SNC), headquartered in Istanbul. The SNC is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, as well as other dissident groups and individuals.

“There was some talk that when [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov visited Syria a few days ago, the Syrians sent back with him to Turkey over 40 Turkish operatives they had arrested in recent weeks. If this is true, what is also significant is that the Syrian government did not make much fuss about it,” said Sanjian. Lavrov’s visit to Syria on Feb. 7 came days after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution supporting an Arab plan to urge Assad to step down.

According to Sanjian, Turkey, having gained confidence from its significant economic growth in recent years, is trying to find a shoe that fits. “Turkey is acting like a fresh college graduate without a job, sending resumes everywhere. We don’t know who will ultimately accept her for a full-time job, which will determine Turkey’s future course in international affairs. Her resume has not gotten so far a response from the Europeans, and that is why she is also knocking at other doors,” he said.

Arissian, too, is skeptical of foreign intervention, which she considers driven by narrow interests. Turkey is merely using the unrest in Syria to advance its influence in the region, she said.

Fr. Bedourian thinks “outside intervention led Syria to this unfortunate situation. Here, in the U.S., the concept [of freedom] is different and they want to see the same type of freedom in Syria, which I think is currently impossible [to achieve].”

“I agree that Syria needs a lot of changes and reforms…but not this way,” he added. “Every country needs reforms, changes, and improvements—even first-world countries—but no one has the right to sow the seeds of hatred and destruction in the country where they live and work. The world must leave Syria and its people alone to solve their own problems.”

According to Sanjian, the U.S. is pursuing its own, as well as Israel’s, interests in the region. “There’s the issue of Israel finally relaxing; for that to happen, Iran must weaken, Hezbollah must weaken. These things are more important to the U.S., and if they can evoke the cause of democracy in the process, that’s a bonus for them in public diplomacy. The West, they say, wants democracy. Well, if that is its major objective, why don’t they want the same in Bahrain?”

“The majority of the population in Bahrain is Shiite, hence believed to be close to Iran. The Bahraini king, who is Sunni, crushed the rebellion with direct Saudi assistance. In Syria, the situation is the reverse: The minority Alawi community dominates the country’s politics and has been close to Iran. Most of the regime’s opponents come from the majority Sunni community in the country,” Sanjian explained.

Muslim Brotherhood: a threat?

Many observers fear that if the Assad government falls, its replacement will be much more authoritarian. “Many voices warn that the Arab Spring will lead to an Islamic winter,” said Arissian.

According to Sanjian, the Muslim Brotherhood is the only organized opposition in Syria. “If this regime falls, and Syria remains intact, it is the most likely force that will gain control, similar to what happened in Egypt,” he said. “The rest of the opposition leaders who are sitting in France and Istanbul say a lot of things that are palatable for Western media, but on the ground, I don’t think they hold any real power, or that they can score substantial gains during any hypothetical post-Assad elections. We saw an example of that in Egypt.”

The electability of the Muslim Brotherhood lies in the fact that the majority of the population has little education and would be moved by religious rhetoric, argued Sanjian, who takes the possibility of a Sunni Islamic belt forming in the Middle East seriously. “In Tunisia the Sunni Islamists are already in power. Libya will likely fall to them as well. The Muslim Brotherhood is now the largest party in Egypt. Hamas in Palestine is a local version of the Muslim Brotherhood; Syria—and, and if it falls, then the Jordanian Parliament, too—will probably be taken over by the local Brotherhood branch. And finally, there’s Turkey, where the ruling party is another version of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

But there is no guarantee that these forces will cooperate after gaining power in their respective countries, he said, and it is probable that they may form rivalries. “For instance, there will possibly be a struggle to decide which foreign capital will control any post-Assad Syrian government. Will it be under Ankara’s thumb? Riyadh’s? Or Cairo’s?”

More than posing a threat to Christians, there is a greater chance of the Muslim Brotherhood repressing Syria’s Alawis, whom they consider heretics. If the central power structure collapses, there is even a chance of the Alawis, Druzes, and Kurds seeking control over certain regions, according to Sanjian.

T.N., however, argues that it is unlikely that fundamental Islamists will come to power, or suppress minorities. Armenians, he said, believe that the only alternative to the Assad regime is fundamental Islam, and that is false. “Even if Islamists win, the possibility of targeting minorities and Armenians is highly exaggerated by the current regime, to portray themselves as the only possible option for minorities. The only fear might be the transitional period from collapse to rebuilding. If the transition is accompanied with chaos, anything might happen. If the transition goes smoother and easier, it won’t be that dangerous.”

Fr. Bedourian maintains the threat against Christian minorities is real—and already palpable. “Looking at the situation in Egypt and especially [as it relates] to the Christians in Egypt, there is a serious fear in Syria for the Christians and minority groups,” he said.

Armenians in Syria, past and present

Between 60,000-70,000 Armenians call Syria home, constituting less than 0.5 percent of the country’s total population. More than half of them live in Aleppo, with the other half scattered in such cities as Latakia, Homs, Kamishli, Hasake, Yakoubiye, Raqqa, Kessab, and, of course, the capital Damascus.

The community is not a politically active one—not from the lack of want, but because they are not given the opportunity, said Sanjian. Their position was worse before the current president’s father, Hafez al Assad, came to power. For instance, in the early 1950’s, Armenian schools, along with other foreign institutions, were closed for the purpose of “Arabization” and to rid the country of alleged foreign influence. Lengthy negotiations eventually secured their reopening.

In 1967, after the Arabs lost the war to Israel, Armenian schools were once again threatened with permanent closure. Again, an arrangement was made: Armenian was to be taught only as a language of religious ritual, as a tool to understand the liturgy and teachings of the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic, and Evangelical churches, explained Sanjian. Armenian classes, however, would encompass other topics as well, from history to literature. It is a system, said Sanjian, where authorities know of what is being taught, but they continue to turn a blind eye because they know that the maintenance of Armenian ethnic identity poses no threat to Syria.

Over the past 10-20 years, the number of students in Armenian schools has remained high, now even surpassing the number in Lebanese-Armenian schools, and Armenian-language textbooks have been produced in Aleppo at an impressive rate.

Arissian pointed out that during the presidency of Hafez Assad, and later Bashar Assad, Armenians held to the right to teach their language in their schools, and to hold Mass in their churches. “Armenians in Syria are full citizens who enjoy equal rights,” she said. “They never faced any problems on the grounds of religious discrimination in Syria.”

Arissian also noted that Syria and Armenia enjoy close relations, although she acknowledged that cozy relations between Turkey and Syria over the last decade affected the media’s handling of topics relating to Armenians.

Armenians are keeping their options open, including the idea of moving to Armenia. “It is not a secret that a considerable number of Syrian-Armenians have applied for Armenian citizenship. But this doesn’t mean that they are ready or willing to immediately go to Armenia. Despite the escalation of the situation, Armenians in Syria are standing with the state, with their country Syria,” said Arissian.

First Syria Armenians Take Refuge In Armenia

Astghik Bedevian
08.03.2012

First members of Syria’s sizable ethnic Armenian community have taken refuge in Armenia and many others are said to be considering joining them to flee the worsening crisis in the Middle Eastern country.

The affluent community numbering between 40,000 and 80,000 people was until recently largely unaffected by the bloody unrest because of being concentrated in the relatively safe cities of Aleppo and Damascus. But with no end to the bloodshed in sight, a growing number of Syrian Armenians seem to be contemplating a move abroad and Armenia in particular.

Among those thinking about selling their homes and other properties are relatives of Vazken Mesropian, an Aleppo-born man who has lived in Armenia for almost a decade. “They want to move here, they really do,” Mesropian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We don’t know how long this will continue … The situation there is just terrible.”

George, another Syrian Armenian who fled the country last week, confirmed this. “The problem is that nobody would buy their properties in this situation,” he said, adding that this is a key factor preventing a mass out-migration of Armenians at the moment.

George arrived in Yerevan last week together with two Syrian Armenian friends. “A week ago, when I was about to come here, two big explosions happened in Aleppo. Unfortunately, there is no security there anymore. That is why we have come here,” he explained.

The young man also acknowledged another reason for their decision to repatriate to Armenia: their unwillingness to be drafted to the Syrian army engaged in a harsh crackdown on a popular uprising that thrust the country into turmoil a year ago.

Syrian nationals in Yerevan confirmed a widely held belief that the Syrian-Armenian community remains overwhelmingly loyal to the ruling Al Assad family and apprehensive about the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting the regime in Damascus.

“Syrian Armenians have done really well [under the Assad regime,]” said Sako Basmadjian, another Aleppo repatriate. “We have our clubs and schools. Life has been very good for us. That is why people feel scared and want the same regime to stay on so they can carry on with their business.”

Mesropian called Bashar Al Assad a “good president.” “He is not a dictator,” he said. “Aren’t there dictatorships in other Arab countries?”

The main challenge facing repatriates in Armenia is to find jobs in a country that has been beset by high levels of unemployment ever since the Soviet collapse. Repatriates complained that their cultural and linguistic differences with Armenia’s population only complicate the search for work.

They said they are most likely to be hired by fellow Syrian Armenians who moved to Yerevan years ago and own businesses there. George said he and his friends will have to migrate to Lebanon if they fail to find jobs.

Hranush Hakobian, Armenia’s minister of Diaspora affairs, revealed that several Syrian Armenians have already asked her ministry for employment assistance. “I have appealed to our Labor Ministry, the Employment Service and other colleagues because the Ministry of Diaspora is not supposed to provide them with jobs,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

According to Hakobian, the Armenian government is ready to facilitate immigration from Syria but has so far devised no specific program to that effect because “the number of Syrian Armenian repatriates is not yet large.” If that number grows, she said, the government will draw on its experience of accommodating hundreds and possibly thousands of ethnic Armenians from Iraq who relocated to Armenia after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Many Armenians of Syria are entrepreneurs and could themselves create jobs in Armenia. But as Mesropian pointed out, they are reluctant to set up shop in their historical homeland because of a highly negative perception of its business environment.

“Unfortunately, Armenia has gotten very bad publicity there,” he said. “People think that there is a mafia here, that you can’t do business here and that they would get cheated. We have to get rid of this bad image, and this is something that the Armenian state should deal with.”

Armenia Reports Sharp Rise In Citizenship Applications From Syria

13.06.2012

Thousands of ethnic Armenians from Syria have applied for Armenian citizenship since the outbreak of the bloody unrest in the Middle Eastern country, immigration officials in Yerevan revealed on Wednesday.

Armen Hakobian, deputy head of the Department on Passports and Visas at Armenia’s national police, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the immigration service received more than 3,000 such applications last year and more than 1,500 of them in the first quarter of this year. He said only 422 Syrian nationals filed such requests in 2010.

Hakobian confirmed that Syrians of Armenian descent account for the vast majority of the applicants. According to Artur Sahakian, another senior official at the police department, some 300 of them have been granted Armenian residency permits in the last two years.

It is not yet clear just how many members of the Syrian-Armenian community have already relocated to the country of their ancestors to flee the worsening crisis in Syria.

The affluent community numbering between 40,000 and 80,000 people was until recently largely unaffected by the bloodshed because of being concentrated in the relatively safe cities of Aleppo and Damascus. But with the situation in the country deteriorating by the day, Syrian Armenians began taking refuge in Armenia late last year and early this year.

“There are now fears about sending children to school,” said Petros, a 22-year-old university student from Aleppo who arrived in Yerevan late last week. He too has applied for Armenian citizenship and would like to stay in Armenia for good.

“People weigh up things and decide to come here,” explained Petros. “They believe the situation is better in Armenia.”

“The situation here is very tense and alarm among people is creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity,” Father Andranik, an Armenian Catholic priest in Aleppo, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone.

In his words, most of some 2,000 ethnic Armenian residents of the Syrian city of Homs have already fled one of the epicenters of vicious fighting between government forces and rebels. The cleric claimed that anti-government “terrorists” have looted the city’s Armenian quarter and burned down its Armenian church.

Both men echoed a widely held belief that the Syrian-Armenian community remains overwhelmingly loyal to the ruling Al Assad family and apprehensive about the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting the regime in Damascus.

“We have grown accustomed to this government for the past 30 years. It protects us and we must be with it,” said Petros. He went as far as to claim that the community may cease to exist if the regime is toppled by the armed opposition.

4 Syrian Armenians Killed After Yerevan-Aleppo Flight

Naira Bulghadarian, Karlen Aslanian

Հրապարակված է՝ 12.09.2012 Four Syrians of Armenian descent were killed and at least 11 others wounded near Aleppo airport on Tuesday night shortly after the latest flight from Yerevan to Syria’s commercial capital.

Syrian Armenian sources said on Wednesday that three of them -- Harut Suvarian, Mesrop Ajemian and Hrach Pepejian -- were returning home from the airport after a trip to Armenia. The other victim, Pepejian’s father Arsen, was said to have gone to the airport to collect his son.

“The wounded persons were taken to the French hospital in Aleppo and their condition is now good,” Raffi Tashjian, a Syrian Armenian man based in Yerevan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), citing his contacts in Aleppo.

A spokesman for Armenia’s Foreign Ministry suggested that the Armenians were shot by Syrian rebels. However, an unnamed friend of theirs told the AFP news agency, “It's not obvious who opened fire, but the result is that five cars were attacked and four Armenians were killed and 13 or 14 others were wounded.”

“Some say it was the FSA (Free Syrian Army), but it's not clear. We don't have proof and we should wait and see. I don't think the FSA would attack random cars in the street.”

He said one of those killed “had left his family behind in Armenia, his wife and kids. He had gone back to take care of some things in Aleppo and then return.”

The deadly incident occurred amid fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels reported in the Nayrab area, around five kilometers (three miles) from Aleppo airport. It raised to at least 19 the total number of ethnic Armenians that are known to have been killed in Syria’s bloody civil strife so far.

There were an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians in Syria, mostly concentrated in Aleppo, when the conflict broke out in early 2011. Hundreds of them have taken refuge in Armenia since fighting reached the city in July.

Around 150 Syrian Armenians arrived in Yerevan on board a Syrian Air commercial jet on Tuesday evening. The plane took about 100 others back to Aleppo.

Both Syrian Air and Armenia’s Armavia national airline continue to carry out regular betweens the two cities despite the worsening security situation. Armavia resumed its weekly flight service on Monday after a one-week pause which it attributed to the FSA’s reported threats to shoot down aircraft entering the country.

Some of the newly arrived passengers at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport said on Tuesday that gun battles are moving closer to Aleppo’s Armenian-populated neighborhoods. “Things are getting worse now,” one man told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But we still hope that they will improve.”

Citing the the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, AFP reported that the Syrian army shelled a string of neighborhoods in central Aleppo on Wednesday.


Heated clashes reported in Syria's Armenian village

http://www.tert.am/en/news/2012/12/14/yacoubiyeh/ 15:18 - 14.12.12


The Syrian government and opposition forces have been caught up in heated clashes in the Armenian village of Yakubie, a spokesperson for the Armenian Prelacy of Beirut, Zhirayr Reisiyan, told Tert.am.

Clashes are also going on in other Christian villages and their neighboring regions. The conflicting sides have reported on the great number of human losses and injured people, as well as material damages.

Yakubie has two Armenian churches, St. Anna and St, Hripsime, as well as an Armenian school. There have been unconfirmed reports that a construction belonging to St. Anna has been seized by the opposition.

The situation in Aleppo, which has a big Armenian community, is relatively calmer today. The electricity supply has been partially restored, but the city still faces a shortage of bread. Charity organizations are said to be distributing foods in the streets to mitigate the situation.


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