Armenia announced on Thursday a major simplification of procedures for granting Armenian citizenship to thousands of ethnic Armenians in Syria increasingly affected by the country’s bloody strife.
In a move meant to facilitate their immigration, the Armenian government said Syrian Armenians seeking citizenship of their ancestral homeland will now be able to receive their new passports at Armenia’s diplomatic missions in Damascus and Aleppo as well as neighboring Lebanon.
“With this decision we are proposing that our compatriots in Syria and Lebanon be able, after gaining Armenian citizenship, to receive passports at our diplomatic missions there,” Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian told a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.
“Thousands of people are applying to receive citizenship,” she said. “There are difficulties with their travel, especially from Syria, and in this regard this decision will greatly facilitate the process of the naturalization of our compatriots.”
According to immigration authorities in Yerevan, some 6,000 Syrian nationals of Armenian descent have applied for Armenian citizenship since the outbreak of anti-government unrest in Syria early last year. It is not clear how many of them have already been granted one. Most of the applicants are believed to still reside in Syria.
Naturalized citizens have until now been required to pick their Armenian passports only at immigration police offices in Yerevan. Some Syrian Armenians have complained about this requirement in recent weeks.
Some of them are also unhappy with the fact that unlike U.S. and European Union nationals, Syrians cannot receive Armenian visas at Yerevan airport. “This is a major problem that must be solved by all means because Syrian Armenians don’t know how to get out of their country,” Vazgen Mesropian, a Syrian Armenian man who settled in Yerevan recently, said on Thursday.
“Of course, we are ready to accept and help our fellow Armenians,” Hovannes Sahakian, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I think the government is taking some steps and will continue to take steps more rapidly.”
In particular, he said, the Armenian government is prepared to arrange more frequent flights between Yerevan and Aleppo if the situation in Syria deteriorates further. Still, Sahakian stressed that official Yerevan will not encourage Syrian Armenians to leave their country en masse and organize their evacuation for the time being.
“If our state tries to evacuate them in this chaotic situation, this could be interpreted, including by the international community, in a different way: that we are meddling in Syria’s internal affairs,” he said. “That could create a more dangerous situation for the Syrian Armenian community.”