Citing reported security threats from Syrian rebels, Armenia’s national airline suspended on Monday its regular flights from Yerevan to Aleppo that have enabled hundreds of ethnic Armenians to flee Syria in recent weeks.
A spokesman for Armavia, Nana Avetisova, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the private carrier is taking very seriously weekend reports that the opposition Free Syrian Army has threatened to shoot down aircraft entering the country.
Avetisova said Armavia has been unable to contact Syrian aviation authorities to assess the security risk. She said it now hopes to receive relevant information and advice from the Armenian Foreign Ministry.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that ministry officials are now looking into the matter.
Armavia has until now been among a handful of foreign airlines flying to Syria. The company suspended the once-a-week Yerevan-Aleppo flights in March but resumed them in early July. It carried out several additional flights to Aleppo last month despite intensifying fighting in the city where the vast majority of an estimated 80,000 Syrian nationals of Armenian descent live.
Armavia’s next flight to Syria’s commercial capital was scheduled for Monday. It was cancelled by the airline.
Armavia was also due to fly back to Aleppo on Tuesday some 140 Syrian Armenian children who have spent summer holidays in Armenia. Firdus Zakarian, a senior official at the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, said they will return home as planned. He did not elaborate.
Syria’s national airline, which also flies to Yerevan on a weekly basis, said it has no plans yet to suspend the service. Its next flight is scheduled for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the death toll among Syrian Armenians continued to rise on Monday. According to the Syrian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, one woman, Lusaber Yakubian, was killed and three other Syrian Armenians injured in a bomb explosion in Damascus.
More than a dozen Syrian Armenians are known to have been killed in the country since the start of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime over 17 months ago.