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Dashnaktsutyun Switches To Cash In Syria Relief Effort


Syria -- A view shows sand bags in front of the airport in the northern city of Aleppo, 12Dec2012

Syria -- A view shows sand bags in front of the airport in the northern city of Aleppo, 12Dec2012

Citing the worsening situation in Syria, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) said on Wednesday that it has decided to send cash, rather than food and medication, to ethnic Armenians remaining there from now on.

Dashnaktsutyun leaders have helped to ship 35 tons of key foodstuffs and 2 tons of drugs to the Syrian Armenian community as part of the Help Your Brother effort launched three months ago.

One of them, Vahan Hovannisian, said the escalating civil war in the Middle Eastern nation is making continued distribution of such humanitarian assistance in Aleppo and other cities extremely difficult.

“Roads are closed and there is fighting, roadblocks, armed gangs on the roads,” he told a news conference. “Because of that, we are now concentrating on delivering cash to the Armenian population on the ground.”

An equivalent of 20 million drams ($50,000) in cash is now due to be delivered to Syria. Hovannisian declined to specify how that will be done, saying only that the sum cannot be transferred through banks.

“The banking sector in Syria is not functioning,” he explained. “It’s not possible to expedite any wire transfers to Syria.”

“The world is not quite enthusiastic about our relief efforts in Syria but we don’t really care about that. We will keep doing our job,” added Hovannisian.

According to Lilit Galstian, another Dashnaktsutyun member leading the campaign, the opposition party’s structures in Armenia have raised a total of over 41 million drams ($100,000) in cash donations for Syrian Armenians so far. She said the donations have ranged from 2,000 drams to as much as 15 million drams.

Some of the food and cash collected by Dashnaktsutyun has been provided to Syrian Armenians that have relocated to Armenia. Galstian said about 600 such families have received food parcels so far.

The Syrian Armenian community, which numbered an estimated 80,000 members before the outbreak of the country’s bloody domestic strife almost two years ago, is also reportedly receiving humanitarian aid from Armenian Diaspora charities in the United States and Europe. The largest of them, the U.S.-based Armenian General Benevolent Union, set aside $1 million to meet the community’s urgent needs earlier this year.

The Yerevan-headquartered All-Armenian Fund Hayastan pledged last month to provide $2 million worth of aid to Syrian Armenians. It is not yet clear what concrete form that assistance will take.

Meanwhile, the influx to Armenia of ethnic Armenians fleeing fighting in Syria is continuing. Almost 130 of them arrived in Yerevan on Tuesday night on a weekly flight from Aleppo carried out by a Syrian airline. Many of them spoke of deteriorating living conditions in Syria’s largest city that has been the scene of fierce fighting between government forces and rebels since July.

“There is no bread, no gas, no water there,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The situation is terrible.”

“There has been quite a bit of aid from Armenia,” she said. “Long live those who have treated us like Armenians and given us all kinds of aid. But our plight is very bad. My nerves are frayed. The slightest sound makes me shudder.”

“Things are very sad,” said one man. “We had no electricity for eight days. We can’t wait go have a warm shower.”

According to government estimates, at least 6,000 Syrian Armenians have taken refuge in Armenia since the beginning of 2011.
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