Syrians of Armenian descent have continued to take refuge in Armenia in recent months, raising to around 10,000 the number of such people currently living in their ancestral homeland, a government official in Yerevan said on Tuesday.
Lusine Stepanian, a representative of the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora, said the figure is the latest government estimate of the size of the Syrian Armenian refugee population in the country.
The ministry spoke late last year of some 6,000 Syrian Armenians based in Armenia. Many of them fled Syria after fierce fighting reached Aleppo, the Arab state’s largest city.
The once-thriving Armenian community in Syria numbered an estimated 80,000 members before the outbreak of the brutal civil war there two years ago. Most of them lived in Aleppo.
The Armenian government last year took a series of measures to make it easier for Syrian Armenians to settle in Armenia. President Serzh Sarkisian said in May that the government will continue to do its best to alleviate their plight.
However, the government is too cash-strapped to provide large-scale economic assistance to the refugees. Many of them are struggling to find decent housing and jobs in the impoverished country.
According to Stepanian, most of the Syrian Armenians live in rented apartments in Yerevan. She said they are increasingly relocating from the city’s expensive center to outskirts where housing prices are considerably lower.
“Around 600 Syrian Armenian families have expressed a desire to buy apartments in Armenia with state support,” Stepanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Three hundred of those families have already applied for buying apartments in the New Aleppo neighborhood in Ashtarak.”
In Stepanian’s words, the applicants will pay half of the cost of the apartments to be built in the town 20 kilometers west of Yerevan. Private benefactors will provide the rest of the funding, the official said, adding that the government has already set aside land for the Ashtarak neighborhood.
Salpi Javakhchurian and her family moved to Yerevan from Aleppo earlier this year, leaving behind an expensive house and three shops owned by them. The family has decided to buy an apartment in the Armenian capital.
“This is our homeland,” explained Javakhchurian. “I feel like this is my city. There is hardship and some people may offend us, but nobody can tell us to get out of here.”