By Armen Zakarian
Three Iraqi nationals of Armenian descent were detained by Russian border guards after illegally entering Armenia during the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq, it was announced on Tuesday.
The commander of the Russian border troops stationed in Armenia, Major-General Sergei Bondarev, said the Iraqi Armenians crossed the Armenian-Iranian border before being by caught by his forces and handed over to the National Security Service in Yerevan. Bondarev declined to identify the individuals and reveal other circumstances of their arrest.
It thus remained unclear whether they were caught on the main Armenian-Iranian border crossing or other sections of the 50 kilometer-long frontier marked by the Arax River. Their current whereabouts are also not known.
The information divulged to reporters by Bondarev was not previously made public by the Armenian authorities which made preparations for a possible influx of ethnic Armenians from Iraq following the start of the U.S.-led military action in March. Armenian officials said at the time that they asked authorities in neighboring Iran and Turkey to allow Iraq’s estimated 15,000 ethnic Armenian citizens safe passage to Armenia. But very few of them appear to have taken refuge in their historical homeland.
According to Bondarev, the detention of the three Iraqi Armenians marked this year’s only attempted illegal crossing into Armenia through its land borders with Turkey and Iran guarded by the Russians forces. The general said 45 other individuals have been detained at Yerevan’s international airport since January for trying to leave or enter the country without proper documents.