By Emil Danielyan and Armen Dulian
Some 160 Armenian nationals and dozens of other residents of Lebanon have been evacuated to Armenia since the start of Israel’s devastating strikes against the war-torn nation, officials in Yerevan said on Tuesday.
According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, just over a hundred of them were airlifted to Yerevan from the Syrian city of Aleppo on board an Armenian passenger jet early in the morning.
“The Armenian consulate in Aleppo was directly involved in the effort, accompanying this group of people from the Lebanese border to Aleppo yesterday,” a ministry spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, told RFE/RL. “Then the group headed to Armenia by air.”
Karapetian said most of these evacuees are Lebanese citizens, many of them of Armenian descent, as well as other foreigners. Less than half of them are citizens of Armenia, he added.
The Foreign Ministry estimates that there were approximately 1,200 Armenian nationals residing in Lebanon at least before the start of the Israeli military campaign a week ago. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian held on Thursday an emergency meeting with high-ranking government officials to discuss ways of organizing their repatriation. A government statement quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gegham Gharibjanian as saying at the meeting that two Armenian diplomats have already been sent to Lebanon and Syria to assist in the effort.
The head of the Armenian government’s civil aviation department, Artyom Movsesian, suggested that the Armavia national airline will have to carry out additional flights to Aleppo and Damascus to cope with a “large number of those willing to arrive in Armenia.” Markarian agreed, saying that the government is ready to partly subsidize the extra flights, according to the statement.
“I wouldn’t say there is a widespread desire [to escape to Armenia] at the moment,” said Karapetian. “Nonetheless, our embassy there does receive such requests.”
Markarian was also reported to instruct relevant government agencies to assist in the evacuation of Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent that are willing to take refuge in Armenia. There are an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians in Lebanon, and most of them live in the Christian districts of Beirut that have not been targeted by Israeli warplanes so far.
The government in Yerevan announced on Monday that it is ready to grant asylum to any Lebanese regardless of their ethnic origin. It said the Armenian diplomatic missions in Lebanon and Syria have been instructed to issue three-month entry visas and residency permits without delay and free of charge.