Armenia’s government is evacuating at least 70 Armenian citizens from coronavirus-hit Turkey in coordination with Turkish and Georgian authorities, the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan said on Thursday.
Three buses carrying them left Istanbul on Wednesday morning and were due to reach Armenia via Georgia early on Friday.
“The transportation was agreed with relevant Turkish and Georgian authorities whose assistance is appreciated,” the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Anna Naghdalian, said in written comments to the Armenpress news agency.
Naghdalian said that just like Armenians returning from other countries, all of the evacuees will be placed in a two-week quarantine on their arrival in Armenia.
One of them, Gagik Musheghian, confirmed that the Armenian government paid for the bus service.
“The Armenian authorities have helped us a lot,” Musheghian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone. “They’ve paid our bus fares, they’ve covered all our expenses.”
“The buses will pass through a transit corridor in Georgia and enter Armenia through the Bagratashen crossing,” he said.
It was not clear whether more Armenians living and working in Turkey will be repatriated in the coming days. According to Naghdalian, about 100 of them have so far contacted Armenia’s Foreign Ministry for the purpose of their possible evacuation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip reportedly expressed readiness to assist in the repatriation of Armenian citizens when he spoke to the spiritual leader of Turkey’s ethnic Armenian community, Patriarch Sahak Mashalian, on Wednesday.
According to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, Erdogan also said that Ankara is ready to provide Yerevan with medicines that could be used for treating coronavirus.
Commenting on the reported offer, Naghdalian said: “As a third party, we will refrain from commenting on unofficial information. In any case, such information is not on our agenda.”
The Turkish authorities have reported more than 38,000 coronavirus cases and 812 deaths resulting from them so far.
Armenia and Turkey do not have diplomatic relations. Successive Turkish governments have kept the border between the two neighboring states closed because of the unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.