Armenia’s economy could and should benefit from thousands of ethnic Armenians from Syria who have taken refuge in their ancestral homeland in recent years, a senior United Nations official said over the weekend.
“We should also mention the influx of Syrian Armenians that have come over the last couple of years,” Bradley Busetto, the head of the UN office in Yerevan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) as he commented on the country’s grave demographic challenges.
“Something like 17,000 Syrian Armenians are now here,” Busetto said in an interview. “The UN has provided a lot of support to them … with shelter, rental subsidies, job training.”
“It’s only anecdotal evidence but I would say that the influx of Syrian Armenians has brought in, to some extent, an economic impetus, an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
Syria was home to up to 80,000 Armenians, most of them descendants of survivors of the 1915 genocide in Ottoman Turkey, before the outbreak of the bloody civil there four years ago. Most of them have fled the war-ravaged Arab country since then. The once thriving and predominantly middle-class community currently numbers only an estimated 15,000 members.
Many Syrian Armenian refugees are struggling make ends meet in Armenia, a low-income country that has long suffered from high unemployment. Some of them have used their entrepreneurial experiences in Syria to launch their own businesses.
The number of cafes, restaurants, shops and other small businesses owned by Syrian Armenians has visibly increased in Yerevan in the last couple of years. Some of their owners have complained of a lack of government assistance and heavy-handed tax administration.