Many of the ethnic Armenians remaining in Aleppo want to leave Syria but are unable to do so for financial reasons, according to yet another local family that arrived in Armenia on Wednesday.
Kohar Galustian, her husband Jean and two small children fled to Lebanon before flying to Yerevan via Dubai with the help of an Armenian charity. She said the couple decided to emigrate after rocket fire destroyed their home in the government-controlled part of the war-ravaged Syrian city on Friday.
“My kids and husband found themselves under the rubble and were bleeding when they were taken out,” Galustian told reporters at Yerevan’s Zvartnots international airport. “Government workers came and took them to hospital.”
Both children, the 4-year-old Kevork and 3-year-old Rita, were born during the bloody conflict which displaced most members of the country’s once thriving Armenian community that had for decades been concentrated in Aleppo.
“We have gone through a lot of hardship in the last six years,” said Galustian. “Not just our family but the entire population of Aleppo.”
According to Armenian government estimates, some 7,000 Syrian Armenians still live in Aleppo districts controlled by the Syrian government. Eight of them have reportedly been killed since fighting between government troops and rebels intensified two weeks ago.
The bloodshed has led to renewed calls for Armenia’s government to help evacuate the city’s remaining Armenians. The government is still reluctant to do that, sending instead two planeloads of relief aid to Aleppo last week.
In Galustian’s words, many Aleppo Armenians are desperate to flee Syria but cannot afford costly trips to Lebanon, Armenia or other countries. “The Armenian community leaders say ‘don’t emigrate’ but won’t explain why,” she said. “But the people want to get out of Aleppo.”
“My father, mother and sisters also want to leave Aleppo. My sisters will come to Armenia soon,” added the young woman.
The Galustian family’s travel expenses were covered by a Yerevan-based non-governmental organization uniting Aleppo natives that has evacuated 250 Syrian Armenians to date. Sushan Karapetian, a representative of the NGO who greeted the family at Zvartnots, said another 100 Syrian Armenians will be flown to their ancestral homeland soon.
“We have received more than 600 [immigration] applications and are now considering them,” said Karapetian. “The number of people willing [to relocate to Armenia] is larger. But for the moment we can receive only this many people with funds provided by our benefactors.”
The Yerevan resident Karine Yarmaloyan and her husband are among those sponsors. They have rented an apartment in the Armenian capital where the Galustians will live for the next six months.
“We just thought that if they have no relatives in Armenia we should definitely cover their initial expenses,” Yarmaloyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) after welcoming the Syrian Armenian family in her house. She said she will treat Kohar and her husband “like my sister and brother.”
Up to 20,000 Syrian Armenians have taken refuge in Armenia since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict.