A Yerevan-based non-governmental organization began distributing on Thursday $100,000 worth of humanitarian assistance allocated by Kuwait to thousands of Syrian Armenians who have taken refuge in Armenia.
The Kuwaiti government promised the assistance during Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian’s recent visit to the oil-rich Gulf state. Kuwaiti officials subsequently met with their Armenian colleagues in Yerevan to discuss its practical modalities.
According to Firdus Zakarian, a senior official at the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora, it was decided that the aid will take the form of grocery coupons to be distributed to some 1,000 Syrian Armenian families living in Yerevan and other parts of the country. Each family is due to receive to two such coupons worth 20,000 drams ($50) each.
The list of those families was drawn up by the Yerevan-based Center to Coordinate Syrian Armenian Relief. The NGO run by Syrian Armenians said more than 200 of them received such coupons on Thursday.
Some of the recipients visiting the center told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that they would prefer cash. “It would be better if we got cash and use it to pay for housing rent and utility fees,” said one man, Aram Khloyan. “That would make things easier. But at least there will be enough food for kids in our home.”
It also emerged that the coupons can be used only at Yerevan food supermarkets owned by Samvel Aleksanian, one of Armenia’s wealthiest men close to the government. Zakarian insisted that the Yerevan City chain was picked by officials from the Kuwaiti Embassy in Armenia and that Aleksanian’s government connections was not a factor.
“The Kuwaity Embassy monitored supermarkets in Yerevan to see which of them are cheaper,” Zakarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “They chose that chain. Neither the Diaspora Ministry nor non-governmental organizations interfered in that process.”
According to the authorities in Yerevan, there are currently some 6,000 Syrian nationals of Armenian descent residing in Armenia. Many of them are struggling to get by in their ancestral homeland, unable to find well-paid jobs and sell their properties in conflict-torn Syria.