Prominent members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) announced on Tuesday the launch of a campaign to raise funds for relief aid to ethnic Armenian and other civilians in Syria increasingly suffering from the country’s civil war.
“This is a public initiative, this is not a partisan initiative and it should not be made partisan,” Vahan Hovannisian, the opposition party’s parliamentary leader, said, unveiling the Help Your Brother initiative at a news conference.
“Naturally, Dashnaktsutyun will be playing a very active role [in the campaign] because Dashnaktsutyun has the most flexible structures on the ground,” he said, referring to party chapters in Syria. “But other organizations and the Armenian Apostolic Church in particular are also actively engaged.”
Hovannisian and another Dashnaktsutyun figure leading the campaign, Lilit Galstian, said they expect to collect enough donations to send a planeload of humanitarian aid to Syria already this month. They said Dashnaktsutyun representatives are already negotiating with Syrian government forces and rebels to ensure the safety of the planned charter flight and aid distribution.
“There are few parties in Syria that are not armed right now, and we should naturally have an agreement with all of them,” explained Hovannisian.
The campaigners have raised only 1 million drams ($2,400) so far. The sum was donated by the Dashnaktsutyun leadership.
Syria is home to an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians mostly concentrated in the northern city of Aleppo, the current epicenter of fierce fighting between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition. As fighting in Aleppo intensified last month the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the largest Armenian Diaspora charity, set aside $1 million to meet the community’s urgent needs.
Local chapters of Dashnaktsutyun and the AGBU have for decades been the leading Armenian community organizations in Syria.
Another, Yerevan-headquartered charity, the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund opened on August 10 a special bank account for financial assistance to Syrian Armenians. It reported only two donations worth a total of $50,000 by the end of August.
President Serzh Sarkisian, who initiated the Hayastan fundraising, instructed the Armenian government on Saturday to pay “utmost attention” Syrian Armenians taking refuge in their ancestral homeland. “Armenia shall stand by every Armenian in hardship, in every corner of the world,” he told government ministers. “Even if our capabilities do not allow to lend a hand to everyone, our warmth and compassion should reach and support them.”
According to immigration authorities in Yerevan, there are currently about 2,000 Syrian nationals of Armenian descent residing in Armenia. Opposition politicians and public figures have accused Sarkisian’s government of not doing enough to help them and Armenians remaining in Syria.
“The primary targets of our concern are those who remain in Syria, in the war zone,” Hovannisian said of the Dashnaktsutyun campaign. “This initiative is directed at them.”
Other Dashnaktsutyun representatives said earlier that the Yerevan government should not encourage a mass out-migration of Armenians from Syria and thereby eliminate a key Diaspora community in the Middle East.