Armenia has expressed readiness to help Russia clear landmines in war-torn Syria, a top Russian military official claimed over the weekend.
“Relevant requests were sent to the representatives of defense departments of Iran, Egypt, Serbia, Armenia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Armenia and Serbia are ready to send their units,” Major General Alexander Novikov of the Russian army’s General Staff was quoted by the Sputnik news agency as saying.
Novikov did not specify the number of Armenian demining experts that could be sent Syria or possible dates for their deployment as part of an “international coalition on demining Syria.” Russia called for the creation of such a coalition through its permanent representative to the United Nations in April.
Armenia did not confirm or refute Novikov’s claim as of Monday afternoon. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Yerevan said only that the information requires “additional examination.”
Even before its international demining initiative, Moscow, which has intervened militarily in Syria’s civil war to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, sought the deployment of Armenian army sappers near the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. The Russian and Armenian foreign ministers discussed the matter at an April 2016 meeting in Yerevan.
“Just recently a Russian-Armenian center for humanitarian reaction was opened, and we discussed today the possibility of involving specialists from this center, sappers in the program of demining Palmyra,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after those talks. “I hope that our joint initiative can be implemented.”
The Russian military claimed to have started demining operations in and around Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in March this year.
The Armenian government and military officials have so far made no public statements on the possibility of joining that effort. Instead, the authorities in Yerevan have sent, through the Russian military, several planeloads of humanitarian aid to Syria.
Syria was home to some 80,000 ethnic Armenians before the outbreak of the bloody conflict there in 2011. Most of them have since fled to Lebanon, Armenia and other countries.
The existence of the once affluent Armenian community is the main reason why Armenia is one of the few countries that still have functioning diplomatic missions in Damascus and even Aleppo.