Hundreds of Syrian Armenians lined up outside Syria’s embassy in Armenia on Wednesday to vote in a contentious presidential election which is expected to give President Bashar al-Assad a third term amid a continuing civil war in his country.
The election, condemned as a sham by the Syrian opposition, the West and much of the Arab world, is scheduled for June 3 within Syria. For millions of Syrians who have fled the country voting began on Wednesday.
An estimated 11,000 of them are ethnic Armenians who have taken refuge in their ancestral homeland. Over the past month the Syrian Embassy in Yerevan has urged them to register with the mission in order to be allowed to cast ballots.
At least several hundred of them heeded the appeal, as evidenced by a long queue that formed outside the embassy building in the morning. Many of those voters did not make secret of backing Assad’s reelection. They said they hope that would help to restore peace and stability in Syria.
Some still hope to eventually return to Damascus, Aleppo and other Syrian cities that had affluent Armenian communities before the outbreak of the conflict three years ago. Krikor Stepanian, a former Aleppo-based flower dealer who now remodels apartments and shops in Yerevan, is one of them.
“I moved here two years ago but went back to Syria seven months ago,” Stepanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The situation there was terrible. I tried to bring my mother with me but couldn’t do that.”
Other Syrian Armenian voters said they decided to participate in the Syrian election despite planning to stay in Armenia for good. One of them, Hrayr Agulian, has set up a small furniture manufacturing firm in Yerevan. “I don’t think that they are really opposition figures,” he said of Assad’s two nominal election challengers.
“We have high hopes. Those who live in Syria or outside it, in Armenia and elsewhere, hope that things will get better,” said Peggy Barsoumian, a young woman. She said she and her family will soon open a bijouterie shop in the Armenian capital.