Syria’s national airline has suspended weekly flights to Armenia, mainly used by ethnic Armenians fleeing the country, following fierce fighting between government forces and rebels reported around Aleppo airport.
The Syrian Air carrier has not flown to Yerevan so far this month. Its most recent Aleppo-Yerevan flight scheduled for January 8 was cancelled because of what the company’s Yerevan office described as a temporary closure of the international airport in Syria’s largest city. The next flight slated for Tuesday will also not take place for the same reason, the office said on Monday.
Zhirair Reisian, a spokesman for a Syrian diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, confirmed the airport closure in a phone interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). Reisian said Syrian authorities say the airport is now undergoing repairs that should be over by January 17. He insisted that it remains under government control.
“The airport is OK but there are problems around it,” Krikor Zopian, another Aleppo-based Syrian Armenian, said by phone. In his words, government troops have been trying to fight back rebel attempts to control roads leading to the airport. “They say that the flights will resume in the next few days,” added Zopian.
Citing Syrian opposition sources, news agencies reported earlier this month that fighting around Aleppo airport intensified and halted flights from the city to the capital Damascus on New Year’s eve. Syrian state media, for its part, said the army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad is clearing the surrounding areas of “terrorist” groups.
Syrian Air continued to fly to Armenia even after Turkey banned Syrian aircraft from using Turkish airspace in October. Its Aleppo-Yerevan flights were rerouted through Iraq and Iran.
Armenia’s national airline, Armavia, also carried out such flights once a week until ending the service for security reasons in September.
Thousands of Syrian nationals, virtually all of them of Armenian descent, have fled to Armenia on board Syrian Air and Armavia jets since the outbreak of the bloody conflict in the Middle Eastern nation nearly two years ago. Many others have come to their ancestral homeland by land, via Turkey and Georgia.