Armenia’s National Security Council discussed the situation in the Middle East on Tuesday, with President Serzh Sarkisian warning of “unfavorable developments” that could affect Armenian communities in Syria and other parts of the region.
According to Sarkisian’s press office, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian briefed the presidential body comprising Armenia’s top state officials on “events taking place in the Middle East and their impact on Armenian communities.” A statement by the office gave no details of Nalbandian’s remarks.
The statement said Sarkisian instructed the Armenian Foreign Ministry and other relevant state bodies to “continue taking measures” aimed at ensuring the safety of ethnic Armenians living in the region. He also told them to seek continued international assistance to and Syrian Armenian refugees and “to be prepared to react to possible unfavorable developments” while strengthening Armenia’s ties with Arab nations. No further details were reported.
Syria was home to an estimated 80,000 ethnic Armenians until the outbreak of the bloody conflict there five years ago. Most of them have fled the Middle Eastern state since then.
More than 15,000 Syrian Armenians are thought to have taken refuge in Armenia. Many of them have been struggling to find jobs in the unemployment-stricken country. Armenia’s cash-strapped government has been unable to provide them with significant material aid.
The European Union announced last week that it will provide more than $3 million in aid to Syrian nationals living in Armenia. It said the funding will support them “by enhancing access to health and psychosocial services, improving housing conditions, increasing access to economic opportunities, and by facilitating the integration of schoolchildren and students.”
Armenia is one of the few countries that still have functioning diplomatic missions in Syria. It maintains relations not only with the Syrian regime but also regional states such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar that have supported rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Nalbandian visited Qatar as recently as on June 18. He reportedly reaffirmed Yerevan’s intention to deepen ties with the Gulf monarchy.
On Monday, “The Economist” magazine cited unnamed officials at Armenia’s Ministry of the Diaspora as saying that they are “making contingency plans in case a new conflict erupts in Lebanon,” which also has a sizable Armenian community. Officials in Yerevan have not made any public statements to that effect.