President Serzh Sarkisian on Friday congratulated his Syrian counterpart Bashar Al-Assad on winning another seven-year term in an election condemned as a farce by the West.
“I am full of hope that Syria will manage to reestablish peace and stability through a national dialogue in the name of the well-being and prosperity of the Syrian people,” Sarkisian told Assad in a letter made public by his office.
“I wish you good health and successes and I wish the friendly Syrian people eternal peace,” he wrote.
Official results showed Assad winning almost 89 percent of the vote in the June 3 election held amid a continuing civil war that has killed more than 160,000 people and ravaged much of Syria. Both the United States and the European Union, which have supported the three-year uprising against the Syrian regime, consider the ballot illegitimate.
Sarkisian’s congratulatory message underlined Armenia’s differences with the West’s and much of the Arab world’s position on the Syrian conflict. Armenia has avoided blaming the Damascus government for the bloody conflict and is one of the few countries that still have functioning diplomatic missions in Syria.
Yerevan’s stance stems, in large measure, from security risks facing tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians remaining in the Middle Eastern nation.
An estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most of them descendants of survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey, lived in Syria before the outbreak of the civil war three years ago. At least half of them have reportedly fled the country since then. More than 10,000 Syrian Armenians have taken refuge in Armenia.
While maintaining contacts with the Syrian regime, the Armenian government has stopped short of openly supporting it in the conflict. Sarkisian stated in April that Armenians in and outside Syria “must stay neutral.” He also dismissed domestic calls for the dispatch of Armenian armed units to Syria with the aim of fighting Islamist militants that seized the Armenian-populated town of Kessab in March.
Kessab’s 2,000 or so residents fled their homes when the rebels, among them members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, drove Syrian government troops out of the town close to the Turkish border. The displacement caused an uproar in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora, with political activists and media commentators there accusing the rebels of ethnic cleansing. Many of them also laid the blame on Turkey.
Syrian rebels fuelled more Armenian concerns earlier this month they intensified military operations in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city where most Syrian Armenians lived before the conflict. Several people were reportedly killed in rebel rocket attacks on Aleppo’s main Armenian-populated district. The Foreign Ministry in Yerevan strongly condemned the shelling.