Armenia’s Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian expressed hope on Thursday that Syrian government troops will soon capture all districts of Aleppo remaining under rebel control.
After a series of major territorial gains, the troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad appear on the verge of taking full control of the city, Syria's most populous before the civil war. Syrian rebels are estimated to have lost 75 percent to 80 percent of the Aleppo territory they once controlled since mid-November, including most recently the Old City.
Commenting on these developments, Hakobian said: “I don’t want us to talk a lot but let’s hope that this flow of good news continues and Aleppo is fully liberated, our people regain peace and a genocide perpetrated in Syria is stopped as soon as possible.”
Aleppo was home to the majority of up to 80,000 ethnic Armenians who lived in Syria before the war. The mainly middle-class community has shrunk dramatically during the five years of devastating fighting between Assad’s army and rebel forces trying to topple him. Around 20,000 Syrian Armenians have taken refuge in Armenia alone.
According to Armenian government estimates, some 7,000 Syrian Armenians still live in Aleppo, virtually all of them in districts controlled by the Syrian government. The government has resisted domestic calls for their evacuation, saying that they should themselves decide whether they want to relocate to Armenia.
Hakobian made clear that Yerevan will not encourage Syrian Armenians to rush back to Aleppo now that the Syrian regime is close to a full military victory there. “Would they be safe?” she said. “Can they find a safe place to protect their lives? Nothing is more important than life.”
“The Armenian government will never force people to make certain decisions. Our approach has been as follows: if they are in Armenia, we should help them solve their issues; if they are in Syria, we should send humanitarian aid and help to keep [Armenian] schools open.”
The minister spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) during the opening ceremony for an annual charity fair in Yerevan featuring confectionery, jewelry items and other handicrafts produced by Syrian Armenian refugees
Armenia sent two planeloads of relief aid to Aleppo in October shortly after five local Armenians were killed and 11 others wounded there, reportedly as a result of rebel shelling. The aid was delivered by Russian transport planes.
Russia has helped turn the tide of the war in the Syrian government's favor with a major campaign of air strikes that began in September 2015. Western governments have strongly criticized the air strikes, saying that they have mainly targeted rebels, rather than Islamic State militants, and killed many civilians.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian defended the Russian military intervention in Syria in an interview with a state-run Russian news agency last month. “The Syrian state has a legal right to request assistance and Russia has a legal right to provide that assistance,” he said.