A senior diplomat from the Syrian Embassy in Armenia appears to have defected to Dubai, joining several of his colleagues in openly backing the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Al-Jazeera television reported over the weekend that Mohammed Hosam, the number two figure at the embassy, has voiced support for the Syrian opposition’s struggle to topple al-Assad.
Diplomatic sources in Yerevan essentially confirmed the report on Monday. They told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that Hosam has already left Yerevan for Dubai on a regular flight operated by a United Arab Emirates airline.
According to the Syrian Embassy, Hosam did not report for work and embassy officials could not contact him on Monday. The Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tigran Balayan, said later in the day that official Yerevan has so far received no requests from the Syrian side to terminate the diplomat’s accreditation.
Hosam is not the first Syrian diplomat to join the opposition ranks. Syria’s ambassadors to the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus defected to Qatar last week.
Armenia is one of the few countries of the world that still has functioning diplomatic missions in Syria, a fact reflecting the existence of a sizable ethnic Armenian community in the country. Balayan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the Armenian Embassy in Damascus and consulate in Aleppo are continuing to work despite escalating violence.
Aleppo has been the focal point of fierce fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels over the past week. The vast majority of Syria’s 80,000 or so Armenians live there.
In Balayan’s words, the Armenian consulate is located in a relatively safe part of the city and has not been affected by the fighting so far.
According to the Foreign Ministry, the Armenian missions in Damascus and Aleppo have issued some 3,000 visas to mainly ethnic Armenian Syrian nationals this year. The missions will be allowed soon to give passports to those Syrian Armenians who have applied for and been granted Armenian citizenship. The authorities in Yerevan have received more than 6,000 citizenship applications since the start of the Syrian crisis early last year.