An Armenian cargo plane carrying 14 tons of humanitarian assistance arrived in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo late on Monday after being ordered to land and searched in Turkey.
The plane belonging to the Air Armenia private carrier was allowed to continue on its way after the six-hour search in the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum confirmed that it had no cargo that could be used by the Syrian military.
“The plane was ordered to land and it was inspected. It was clear that the declaration was correct and the plane was given permission to take off,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters, according to Reuters.
Last Wednesday Turkey forced down a Syrian airliner flying from Moscow, and claimed to have found Russian munitions on board destined for Syria’s armed forces. The move infuriated the Russian and Syrian governments. Moscow has insisted that there were no weapons on the plane.
According to Arsen Avetisian, the Air Armenia director, the stopover at Erzurum airport was agreed with the Turkish side in advance. “They just want to be sure that what we are transporting is indeed humanitarian freight,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Armenian Foreign Ministry confirmed this. “The landing of the airplane in Turkey was planned and it was carried out according to a previously reached agreement,” the ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, told Reuters.
The plane carried key foodstuffs mostly donated by Armenian businesspeople in a fundraising campaign organized by leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an opposition party with branches in major Armenian communities abroad and Syria in particular. They launched the “Help Your Brother” campaign last month, citing the need to help ethnic Armenian and other civilians in Syria suffering from the country’s civil war.
Vahan Hovannisian, one of the Dashnaktsutyun leaders, announced the impending Turkish search shortly before the chartered plane with the first consignment of the collected aid took off from Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport. “Let them check it,” he told journalists. “Of course, this makes our effort more difficult and expensive. But if that’s the price, we are ready to pay.”
“This will not be the last delivery,” Hovannisian said, adding that another 16 tons of food will be shipped to Syria soon.
Aleppo is the cultural and economic center of Syria’s 80,000-strong ethnic Armenian community. Thousands of Syrian Armenians have fled the country since the start of the bloody unrest there 18 months ago.