By Ruzanna Stepanian
Some two hundred more Armenian citizens and other residents of Lebanon will be evacuated to Armenia on Thursday amid the continuing Israeli assault on the tiny Arab state, the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan said on Wednesday.
A ministry spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, told RFE/RL that the evacuees will be transported to Syria by bus and then fly to Yerevan on board two Armenian airliners. “Most of them are citizens of Armenia,” Karapetian said. The evacuees will be accompanied by Armenian diplomats during the high-risk journey from Beirut to Aleppo, he said.
According to the ministry, 160 Armenians and dozens of Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent have already escaped to Armenia since the start of devastating Israeli raids on civilian and guerilla targets in Lebanon on July 12. It says some 1,200 Armenian nationals lived in the country before the assault.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian has promised to provide “state support” to them and other Lebanese residents who would like to take refuge in Armenia. Two Armenian diplomats have been sent to Lebanon and Syria to assist in their voluntary evacuation. Yerevan’s ambassador in Beirut, Vahan Ter-Ghevondian, was scheduled to hold a special news conference for Lebanese-Armenian media on Wednesday.
“I wouldn’t say there is a big influx of evacuees from Lebanon right now,” said Karapetian. “It’s just that we are prepared for such an influx because it is not clear when all of this will end.”
The official added that no Armenian casualties have been reported so far. The Lebanese authorities say at least 280 people, the vast majority of civilians, have been killed in the Israeli air strikes launched in response to Hezbollah guerillas’ deadly cross-border attack on Israel. The Armenian criticized the Israeli retaliation as disproportionately harsh last week.
Lebanon is home to an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians that are represented in the country’s government and parliament. Most of them live in the Christian neighborhoods and suburbs of Beirut that have largely been spared bombardment so far. “There is no mass exodus of Armenians yet,” Shahan Kahandarian, editor of the local Armenian-language “Aztag” daily based, told RFE/RL from Beirut.
The situation appears to be far more dangerous in the Armenian-populated village of Anjar in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley that has been targeted by the Israeli air force. “There are roughly 2,500 Armenians living here,” Kaloust Polazian, a local resident, said by phone. “Authorities here are taking all necessary precautions. But we don’t know what will happen. We are at the mercy of God.”
“One is left to think that Lebanon’s Armenians have no future,” he added grimly. The country is in serious trouble.”
(AP-Photolur photo: Smoke rises above Beirut's southern suburbs from Israeli air strikes as Israel continued bombing Hezbollah strongholds on Wednesday.)