Armenia is ready to support initiatives aimed at curbing the destruction of Christians in the Middle East, President Serzh Sarkisian said on Monday while receiving the head of a major Roman Catholic organization in Yerevan.
Fra Matthew Festing, the Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, arrived in the Armenian capital over the weekend for the first-ever state visit of the head of the Rome-based organization, which is a present-day continuation of the medieval Knights Hospitaller, to Armenia.
After his private meeting with the senior dignitary, President Sarkisian said that they also spoke about “the tragic situation in Syria which has turned into a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“We noted with pain that Christians, and not only Christians, there are being prosecuted and tortured. On behalf of Armenia, I expressed readiness to bring our contribution to the implementation of any initiative which will somehow stop the elimination of the Christians and Christian heritage at the Middle East,” Sarkisian said, as quoted by his press office.
The Armenian government sent two planeloads of humanitarian aid to Syria earlier this month as hostilities intensified around Aleppo and the plight of the local population, including thousands of Armenians remaining there, dramatically worsened.
An estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians lived in Syria before the outbreak of a bloody conflict there in 2011. The mostly middle-class community was concentrated in Aleppo, the country’s formerly largest city. In the past several years the size of the Armenian community in Syria and Aleppo, in particular, has dramatically shrunk because of the hostilities, with some 16,000 Syrian-Armenians taking refuge in Armenia. Over a hundred ethnic Armenian citizens of Syria have been killed in the conflict, with tens of thousands fleeing their homes and heading to neighboring countries, Europe or North America.
The latest escalation of violence in Aleppo has led to renewed calls for the Armenian government to help evacuate the Armenians remaining in the city. But such appeals have also sparked concerns among some leaders of the Armenian community in Syria about the possible end of Armenian presence in this Middle Eastern country altogether.
Authorities in Yerevan say the possibility of evacuating ethnic Armenians from Syria is not being considered yet.