By Armen Dulian
More than 400 Armenians and ethnic Armenian citizens of Lebanon have been evacuated to Armenia since the start of Israel’s military assault against the Middle Eastern nation, a senior official in Yerevan said on Monday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Gegham Gharibjanian said virtually all of them have been transported to Yerevan from Syria in special charter flights carried out by the Armavia national airline and partly subsidized by the Armenian government. “The planes flying to Syria are empty and the government covers their one-way cost,” told RFE/RL.
Gharibjanian said Armavia carried out a similar flight to Tel Aviv, bringing back more than 50 Armenian nationals residing in Israel early on Monday. Not all of them are believed to have returned to Armenia for security reasons, though.
The government estimates that some 1,200 Armenian nationals lived in Lebanon before the start of the Israeli onslaught almost two weeks ago. Lebanon is also home to an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most of them living in the Christian districts of Beirut that have been largely spared bombardment so far. The Armenian community has not reported any casualties yet.
“Fortunately, our forecasts have proved correct and there has been no massive influx [of Armenian evacuees from Lebanon], even though our diplomatic missions are prepared to help to evacuate more people,” said Gharibjanian.
The government in Yerevan announced last week that any citizen of Lebanon fleeing the war and willing to take refuge in Armenia will be granted special residency permits free of charge. It also sent two diplomats to Beirut and Aleppo, Syria to assist in the evacuation.
So far, about 30,000 foreign nationals have fled Lebanon, most traveling to Cyprus and Turkey by boat.