Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian on Thursday expressed concern at the worsening security situation in Aleppo but stopped short of calling for a mass evacuation of thousands of ethnic Armenians remaining in the war-ravaged Syrian city.
He only reaffirmed his government’s readiness to help transport Syrian Armenian children to Armenia and take care of them there.
Addressing members of his cabinet, Abrahamian also said the government will discuss the situation in Aleppo in detail at its next meeting slated for May 14. Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian will speak about “what steps are taken by her ministry, what the government can do and how we can help,” he said.
Fighting in and around Syria’s largest city has intensified in recent weeks, leading to calls for official Yerevan to help the remaining local Armenians take refuge in Armenia. Syrian Armenian leaders have spoken out against a mass evacuation, however, saying that they still hope to preserve the once thriving community that has for decades been mostly concentrated in Aleppo.
Some Syrian Armenian refugees in Armenia strongly disagree with the community leadership’s stance, saying that deadly fighting between Syrian government troops and Islamist rebels poses a growing security risk to the local Armenian population. A group of such individuals launched on Wednesday a fundraising campaign in Yerevan aimed at financing dangerous and expensive journeys out of Syria.
“We should not trust any party, organization or community leadership. We just need to save the Aleppo Armenians because their plight is terrible,” one of them, Hrayr Akvilian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“My aunt and my father’s relatives are still there,” said another Syrian Armenian in Yerevan. “My aunt had a private clinic while her husband had a job. They both have lost their livelihoods.”
“Living conditions there are very bad,” added the Aleppo-born woman. “Many are barely managing to get by.”
Some Armenian opposition groups have added their voice to the calls for the evacuation of the Aleppo Armenians. Earlier this week, Levon Zurabian of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) initiated an emergency meeting on the issue of the parliamentary leaders of Armenia’s main political parties represented in the National Assembly.
Zurabian insisted on Thursday that the evacuation is becoming imperative because the very survival of the Aleppo Armenians is now at serious risk. In his words, Yerevan must appeal to the international community for financial and logistical support for such a humanitarian operation.
“Every day the danger of their extermination grows bigger,” Zurabian said. “Armenia simply has no time [for more deliberations.]”
But Vahram Baghdasarian, the parliamentary leader of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), cautioned against “unnecessary haste” in dealing with the situation, while acknowledging that evacuation might eventually become the only way of protecting the Armenian community in Aleppo.
“On the one hand, there is the issue of not breaking up the community, which is raised by the [Armenian] church,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “But if there is a need for evacuation we will have to figure out possible routes for getting people out [of the war zone.] All this is under discussion.”
Echoing statements by Armenian Diaspora Ministry officials, Baghdasarian also said that the community leaders must have the final say on the evacuation.
Syria was home to up to 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most of them descendants of survivors of the 1915 genocide in Ottoman Turkey, before out the outbreak of the bloody conflict in the Arab state. The community is thought to have shrunk by more than half in the last four years.
Some 13,000 Syrian Armenian nationals currently reside in Armenia. Most of them are struggling to make ends meet in their ancestral homeland beset by high unemployment.