Hrant Bagratian, a major opposition presidential candidate, called on Monday for a mass migration of ethnic Armenians from Syria to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that they would give a demographic and economic boost to their ancestral homeland.
Government support for such resettlement is one of 100 policy measures listed on Bagratian’s election manifesto. The document says that Syrian Armenians as well as ethnic Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan must be paid between $50,000 and $120,000 per family for settling in Nagorno-Karabakh and other Armenian-controlled territories surrounding the disputed enclave.
Bagratian, who served as Armenia’s prime minister from 1993-1996, stood by this campaign pledge and advocated a broader “repatriation” of tens of thousands of Syrian Armenians in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Around 200,000 Armenians [in Syria] are in dire straights. Especially Aleppo Armenians,” he said, commenting on his ambitious “New Aleppo” project.
“There is probably no other Armenian or non-Armenian community in the world with such craft skills. As far as I remember, the Armenian quarters in Aleppo used to be a paradise. How can we use that quality?”
Bagratian noted that Armenia already failed to accommodate over 300,000 ethnic Armenian refugees from Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. Faced with severe economic hardship and lack of government assistance, most of them subsequently emigrated to Russia and other countries.
“We lost them,” said Bagratian. “Unfortunately, the war [in Karabakh] did not allow us to help them. That must not be repeated.
“This stratum of [Syrian Armenian] golden people must be received. They will teach us. They will substantially improve Armenia’s business culture.”
“There are fantastic jewelers among them. We could launch a program to turn Armenia into a center of jewelry,” added the opposition leader who was a key mastermind of free-market reforms implemented in the country in early 1990s.
Syria had an estimated 80,000-100,000 citizens of Armenian descent before the outbreak of the bloody conflict there almost two years ago. According to authorities in Yerevan, more than 6,000 of them have since taken refuge in Armenia. Many are struggling to get by in the unemployment-stricken country.
While facilitating the inflow of refugees from Syrian with a range of measures, Armenia’s government has stopped short of encouraging Syrian Armenians to leave the war-stricken Middle Eastern state en masse. President Serzh Sarkisian emphasized this fact in November.