Armenia’s national airline, Armavia, promised on Friday to consider increasing the frequency of its flights to Syria in order to help more ethnic Armenians flee the war-torn country.
The private carrier also denied sharply raising the cost of the weekly flights from Yerevan to the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Armavia resumed the regular service on July 9 after a more than four-month pause which it attributed to the worsening security situation in the Middle Eastern state home to an estimated 60,000-80,000 Armenians. Syria’s national airline also carries out Aleppo-Yerevan flights on a weekly basis.
Both carriers say their flights have been fully booked until September, a fact indicating an unfolding exodus of Syrian Armenians. Hundreds of them are believed to have taken refuge in Armenia in recent months.
With violence in Syria escalating by the day, the Armenian government and Armavia are facing growing calls to evacuate Syrian citizens of Armenian descent en masse. The Ministry of Diaspora said it asked Armavia last week to fly to Aleppo more frequently and cut its ticket prices.
Karen Yeghekian, Armavia’s chief sales manager, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the company’s management will discuss the possibility of more flights. He said Armavia planes currently fly to Syria only once a week because of the lingering security risks that are also raising the cost of the service. Its ticket prices have risen by roughly 20 percent because of that, Yeghekian said, adding that they currently range from 117,000 to 192,000 drams ($285-$467).
The Armenian media and Syrian Armenians have reported more drastic price hikes, however. Some of them also claim that Armavia is selling only round-trip tickets in Syria. “Since I’m not going back [to Syria] I will throw away the return ticket,” said Harutiun Palulian, a Syrian national who arrived in Armenia recently.
The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Friday accused Armavia of “shamelessly” cashing in on Syrian Armenians desperate to escape the worsening fighting. In a statement, the HAK demanded that the government step in and, if necessary, help to airlift those people to Armenia free of charge. It said the government has done little to help the embattled Diaspora community so far.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian discussed the plight of the Syrian Armenians in closed session on Thursday. Officials said Sarkisian gave unspecified “instructions” to government bodies dealing with the growing refugee influx.
Deputy Foreign Minster Sergei Manasarian insisted on Friday that the authorities in Yerevan are doing their best to ensure the community’s security and “normal activities.” In particular, he said, “special envoys” from Yerevan periodically visit Syria to meet community leaders there.
“This is a case where publicizing efforts may not have a positive impact on their effectiveness, and we will therefore refrain from divulging their details,” Manasarian said in written remarks to Tert.am.