Armenia’s Armavia airline said that it still has no plans to cancel regular flights to Aleppo despite intensifying fighting there that left at least one ethnic Armenian resident of the besieged Syrian city dead on Tuesday.
A spokesman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the 55-year Viken Kalayjian was gunned down in the morning. No other details of his death were immediately known.
Kalayjian is the eight Syrian citizen of Armenian descent reportedly killed since the start of the anti-government revolt in Syria more 17 months ago. Two of those victims were Syrian army conscripts.
The latest Armenian casualty was reported amid continuing heavy fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels holed up in some parts of Aleppo. News reports said forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad tried to encircle the Salaheddine district, the rebel stronghold.
According to Reuters, mortar fire and tank shells exploded across the district early on Tuesday, forcing rebel fighters to take cover in crumbling buildings and rubble-strewn alleyways. Tanks have entered parts of Salaheddine and army snipers, using the cover of heavy bombardment, deployed on rooftops, hindering rebel movements, the news agency reported.
As the street battles raged on more ethnic Armenians fled Aleppo along with many other city residents. More than 100 of them arrived in Yerevan on board an Armavia plane late on Monday.
“Things were not that good today,” one of them Harutiun Terzian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Fighting is still far away from the Armenian neighborhoods, but it’s getting closer.”
The arriving passengers included 14 members of a Syrian Armenian extended family. One of them, Astghik Kuyumjian, said they will receive Armenian citizenship but do not know yet how long they will stay in Armenia.
Armavia has carried out six Yerevan-Aleppo flights and transported about 540 Syrian Armenians to the country of their ancestors since resuming the once-a-week service on July 9. Syria’s national airline also flies to the Armenian capital from Aleppo on a weekly basis.
Armavia announced last week that it will carry out five additional flights in August to enable more Syrian Armenians to flee the civil war. The private company said on Tuesday that it will press ahead with the flights despite the worsening situation in Syria’s largest city.
Armavia thus remains one of the few foreign airlines still flying to Syria. The escalating violence there led major European carriers such as Air France and British Airways to cancel their flights to Damascus this spring. Russia’s Aeroflot followed suit on Monday, citing “commercial reasons.”