Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leadership on Tuesday expressed readiness to grant asylum to Yazidis who have been forced to flee their homes in parts of northern Iraq controlled by the Islamic State.
Davit Babayan, the spokesman for Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, referred to the Yazidis as “brotherly” people facing genocide at the hands of radical Sunni insurgents.
“The Armenian people cannot be indifferent to what is now being done to the Yazidi people,” Babayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The Yazidis are the only people who have become an integral part of the Armenian people.”
The unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is therefore willing to take in Yazidi refugees, he said. “Artsakh has many socioeconomic problems,” he said, using Karabakh’s traditional Armenian name. “But if there are such applications we, as a state committed to democratic and humanitarian norms, will try to help those people as much as we can.”
Asked whether the Karabakh Armenians are offering to resettle Iraqi Yazidis in the territories under their control, Babayan said, “If there are such requests we will see to what extent we are able to grant them.” He declined to be drawn on economic and other aspects of such relocation.
Officials in Armenia, which is home to a sizable Yazidi community, were more cautious in voicing readiness to accommodate refugees from Iraq. According to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, no Iraqi Yazidis have taken refuge or applied for asylum in the country so far.
Boris Murazi, an Armenian Yazidi activist, confirmed that. He argued that reaching Armenia is not easy for his ethnic kin from Iraq as they cannot receive Armenian visas at the border and need to make a long journey through Turkey and Iran or Georgia. In Murazi’s words, Iraqi Yazidis have stayed away from Armenia so far also because of the Armenian government’s “overdue” reaction to their suffering.
It was not until Monday that President Serzh Sarkisian expressed serious concern about the mass killings and deportations of Iraqi Yazidis. A spokesman for Sarkisian said he has instructed Armenia’s Foreign Ministry and diplomatic missions abroad to “redouble their efforts to adequately raise the issue in the international arena.”
“Better late than never,” Murazi told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It’s good that the authorities have realized that they can’t be indifferent to this issue. Not only Yazidi but also ethnic Armenian citizens of Armenia have demanded that the authorities stop being indifferent.”
Indeed, a growing number of Armenian civic activists as well as media outlets are calling on Yerevan to adopt a more proactive stance. Several activists have set up a Facebook group to raise funds for Iraqi Yazidis willing to move to Armenia.
“Armenia must open its borders to Yazidi refugees and accept as many of them as possible,” said Bayandur Poghosian, a member of the group called Help Your Yazidi Brother. Poghosian acknowledged that the Armenian government is too cash-strapped to be able to help them financially. This is why, he said, the campaigners are asking for private donations.