Thousands of ethnic Armenians from Syria have applied for Armenian citizenship since the outbreak of the bloody unrest in the Middle Eastern country, immigration officials in Yerevan revealed on Wednesday.
Armen Hakobian, deputy head of the Department on Passports and Visas at Armenia’s national police, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the immigration service received more than 3,000 such applications last year and more than 1,500 of them in the first quarter of this year. He said only 422 Syrian nationals filed such requests in 2010.
Hakobian confirmed that Syrians of Armenian descent account for the vast majority of the applicants. According to Artur Sahakian, another senior official at the police department, some 300 of them have been granted Armenian residency permits in the last two years.
It is not yet clear just how many members of the Syrian-Armenian community have already relocated to the country of their ancestors to flee the worsening crisis in Syria.
The affluent community numbering between 40,000 and 80,000 people was until recently largely unaffected by the bloodshed because of being concentrated in the relatively safe cities of Aleppo and Damascus. But with the situation in the country deteriorating by the day, Syrian Armenians began taking refuge in Armenia late last year and early this year.
“There are now fears about sending children to school,” said Petros, a 22-year-old university student from Aleppo who arrived in Yerevan late last week. He too has applied for Armenian citizenship and would like to stay in Armenia for good.
“People weigh up things and decide to come here,” explained Petros. “They believe the situation is better in Armenia.”
“The situation here is very tense and alarm among people is creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity,” Father Andranik, an Armenian Catholic priest in Aleppo, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone.
In his words, most of some 2,000 ethnic Armenian residents of the Syrian city of Homs have already fled one of the epicenters of vicious fighting between government forces and rebels. The cleric claimed that anti-government “terrorists” have looted the city’s Armenian quarter and burned down its Armenian church.
Both men echoed a widely held belief that the Syrian-Armenian community remains overwhelmingly loyal to the ruling Al Assad family and apprehensive about the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting the regime in Damascus.
“We have grown accustomed to this government for the past 30 years. It protects us and we must be with it,” said Petros. He went as far as to claim that the community may cease to exist if the regime is toppled by the armed opposition.