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A government body tasked with supporting small business offered on Thursday to extend low-interest loans to ethnic Armenians from Syria who have taken refuge in Armenia and would like to start businesses there.

Senior officials from the National Center for the Development of Small and Medium Business made the offer at a meeting with a group of Syrian Armenians currently residing in Yerevan.

The center’s director, Varazdat Karapetian, said they could borrow, without collateral, up to 5 million drams ($12,350) each at a 5 percent interest rate set well below market-based levels. The agency’s lending rate for local entrepreneurs is 10 percent per annum, he said. Also, a single loan provided to locals does not exceed 3 million drams.

“We have carried out 15 projects this year to support first-time entrepreneurs. More than 100 firms have been established through those projects,” Karapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

“We are offering Syrian Armenians the same opportunities on even better terms,” he said.

According to the Armenian government, the number of Syrian Armenians currently living in the country has surpassed 5,000. Many of these mostly middle-class refugees own small and medium enterprises in Syria that have ceased to operate because of the continuing bloody strife in the Middle Eastern nation.

With most Syrian Armenians struggling to find employment in Armenia, it has been suggested that some of them could set up shop there and thus create sustainable income sources for themselves and jobs for others. However, many are clearly wary of doing business in their ancestral homeland, mindful of its problematic business environment and the small size of the local market.

“Starting a business is difficult here because 10-15 people control markets. We’ll see what we can do,” said one of the Syrian Armenians who took part in the meeting organized by the government center.

“We need to familiarize ourselves. They should suggest their ideas to us and we should come up with ours,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
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