A second group of ethnic Armenian children from Syria arrived in Armenia on Tuesday to spend their holidays at a local summer camp as part of a special program launched by the authorities in Yerevan.
The nearly 130 schoolchildren from the war-torn city of Aleppo accompanied by 19 teachers arrived at the Zvartnots airport on a special Armavia flight sponsored by a Yerevan-based charity and Ara Abrahamian, a Russian-Armenian businessman. They proceeded to the children’s camp central in the Armenian resort of Hankavan, which hosted 119 other Syrian Armenian teenagers, all of them from Damascus, last week.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian visited the Hankavan camp on Monday, talking, sharing meal and even dancing with the children. He also familiarized himself with living conditions there.
“I want to assure you that the Armenian government will do everything to ease your troubles,” Sarkisian told them in a speech. “As you know, we expect the arrival of a new group from Aleppo tomorrow. I am convinced that the atmosphere reigning in the camp will enable all of us to more easily overcome challenges facing a small section of the Armenian people.”
“The Armenian people have rallied around the Syrian Armenians, and everybody -- from the private sector to ordinary citizens of Armenia -- is trying to give support,” he said.
The government scheme is meant to give some 400 young Syrian Armenians respite from deadly violence and turmoil that engulfed their country more than a year ago. Government officials in Yerevan stress that their arrival in Armenia must not be seen as an evacuation. They say the children are due to spend only two weeks at the camp. With no end to fighting in Syria in sight, it is not clear, however, whether they will be sent back home afterwards.
“We can’t get on with our lives there anymore,” Sevan Keleshian, a young schoolteacher accompanying the Aleppo group, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) at Zvartnots. “There is a lot of fear. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I hope that there is more assistance from Armenia to those people who want to move here.”
Many of the newly arrived children are visiting the country of their ancestors for the first time. Some were greeted at the Yerevan airport by their Syrian Armenian relatives living in Armenia.
Noem Manukian, a Yerevan-based Syrian Armenian woman, was happy to welcome her two grandchildren. She said she would like them to stay in Armenia and go to a local school.
“The country [Syria] is being destroyed,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Will it ever be rebuilt? I don’t think so.”
Raffi Tashjian, another former Aleppo resident, met his nephew at Zvartnots. “I want him to stay here and not go back,” he said.
The children and their teachers were said to have passed several government and rebel checkpoints as they travelled from central Aleppo to a nearby international airport on Tuesday morning. “We were checked by both government and opposition forces,” said Keleshian.
“They went to the airport in a convoy this morning,” said Tashjian. He said the convoy was escorted by “armed Armenian guys protecting Armenian neighborhoods” in Syria’s largest city.