Armenia has temporarily moved its consulate-general in Aleppo to a safer location in Syria’s largest city after more than a week of fierce fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels, official Yerevan announced over the weekend.
Tigran Balayan, the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the consulate premises are now located closer to central Aleppo neighborhoods populated by tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians. There have been no reports of major fighting there yet.
Balayan said the main purpose of the relocation is to “organize consular services provided to Syrian Armenians in a safer and faster manner.”
The Aleppo consulate as well as the Armenian Embassy in Damascus continue to function despite escalating violence in Syria. According to the Foreign Ministry, they have issued some 3,000 Armenian visas this year.
The diplomatic missions were also authorized last week to give Armenian passports to Syrian nationals of Armenian descent. According to immigration authorities in Yerevan, more than 6,000 of them have applied for dual Armenian citizenship since the beginning of last year.
There are an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians living in Syria. Hundreds of them have taken refuge in their ancestral homeland in recent weeks alone. Armenia’s national airline, Armavia, launched additional flights to Aleppo last week, citing the need to enable more Syrian Armenians to flee the war-torn country.
Syria -- A Free Syrian Army fighter runs for cover during clashes with Syrian Army soldiers in the Salah al- Din neighborhood of central Aleppo, 05Aug2012
Gevorg Payasian, his wife and children arrived in Armenia from Syria more than a month ago. Citing his phone conversations with relatives remaining in Aleppo, Payasian said on Monday that Armenians are being increasingly affected by the fighting.
“Neither [warring] side has a problem with Armenians,” he told reporters. “But people die, all shops are closed, and there are food shortages.”
Armenia’s Ministry of Diaspora insisted, meanwhile, that the increasingly bloody strife in Syria still does not warrant a mass exodus of Armenians. “Most of them do not see [deadly] dangers. Why? Because there is no anti-Armenian hysteria,” said Firdus Zakarian, head of a ministry task force dealing with arriving Syrian Armenians.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential party that has branches in Diaspora communities around the world and Syria in particular, likewise reaffirmed its opposition to a mass out-migration of Syrian Armenian community.
Giro Manoyan, a senior Dashnaktsutyun representative, said community members coming to Armenia should get government assistance. “But one must not create the impression that all Syrian Armenians want to come to Armenia and that we are not doing anything to help them come because there is no such desire,” he said.
Local chapters of Dashnaktsutyun and the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the largest Diaspora charity, have for decades been the leading Armenian community organizations in Syria.
AGBU announced on Friday that it has set aside $1 million for humanitarian assistance to the Syrian Armenians. “A special task force, in cooperation with the District Committee of Syria, is in the process of assessing the emerging needs … to help and support our community there,” it said in a statement.
The U.S.-based charity also expressed readiness to turn its facilities in Aleppo, Damascus and another Syrian city, Kamishli, into temporary shelters for ethnic Armenians displaced by the conflict.
“AGBU is in close communication with officials in Armenia to be appraised of the diplomatic efforts and social and organizational initiatives being taken to address the situation,” added the statement.