Armenia will continue to do its best to alleviate the plight of ethnic Armenians in Syria increasingly trapped by the country’s civil war, President Serzh Sarkisian said on Thursday.
“Both as a state and the Armenian people, we are supporting and will be supporting our Syrian Armenian sisters and brothers regardless of whether they have come to Armenia or stayed in Syria,” he said.
Sarkisian spoke during an annual meeting in Yerevan of the governing board of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, of which he is the chairman. The mostly Diaspora-funded charity has implemented $235 million worth of development projects in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh since its establishment two decades ago.
Earlier this year, Hayastan began rendering humanitarian assistance to Syrian Armenians. The fund has pledged to spend at least $2 million for that purpose in 2013.
The once-thriving Armenian community in Syria numbered an estimated 80,000 members before the outbreak of the bloody conflict two years ago. Thousands of them have since fled the Middle Eastern state.
Armenia’s government last year took a series of measures to make it easier for Syrian Armenians to take refuge in their ancestral homeland. According to immigration authorities in Yerevan, around 7,000 of them currently reside in Armenia. Many are struggling to find jobs in a country that has been plagued with high unemployment ever since the Soviet collapse.
The government is too cash-strapped to provide large-scale economic assistance to the refugees. Last December, it allocated 40 million drams (about $100,000) for scholarships granted to more than 100 Syrian nationals studying at Armenian universities.
The government also pledged late last year to help Syrian Armenians set up businesses in Armenia. A state body tasked with supporting small business offered to give them cheap credit. Syrian Armenian entrepreneurs have been wary of doing business in the country, however, mindful of its problematic investment climate.
Meanwhile, there seems to be no light in the tunnel for tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians remaining in Syria. Most of them live in the northern city of Aleppo that has been the scene of fierce fighting between government troops and rebels over the past year. The security situation there is continuing to deteriorate.
“All Armenians live in fear,” Raffi Merjanian, an Armenian man remaining in Aleppo, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone on Thursday. “Fighting is now close to our neighborhoods. Life is normal only in a few neighborhoods. All other people stay indoors.”
More than 50 Syrian Armenians, virtually all of them civilians, have reportedly been killed since the outbreak of the conflict.