Armenia’s government is working on a wide-ranging plan to help ethnic Armenian citizens of Lebanon immigrate to their ancestral homeland, according to a senior official in Yerevan.
According to various estimates, there are between 80,000 and 120,000 Armenians living in Lebanon at present. The vast majority of them are descendants of survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
The once thriving community has shrunk dramatically since the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Many of its remaining members have also been gravely affected by Lebanon’s ongoing economic woes aggravated by the August 4 massive explosion in Beirut. At least 13 Lebanese Armenians were among 181 people killed by the blast.
The Armenian government sent three planeloads of humanitarian aid to Lebanon in the wake of the blast. It faced growing calls from opposition and public figures in Armenia to facilitate the “repatriation” of Lebanese Armenians.
Zareh Sinanyan, the government’s high commissioner for Diaspora affairs, said on Monday that his office is already working on a relevant “package” of government measures.
“We are putting together a social, economic, educational and healthcare package for those people who do not want to stay in Lebanon, who plan to emigrate and would like to come to Armenia,” Sinanyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“We want to bring them to Armenia,” he said. “We do not want them to move to another country. I hope our compatriots will be a little patient. I believe that this package will be ready soon.”
Sinanyan was among several Armenian officials who flew to Beirut on August 9 on board a plane carrying medicines, food and other relief supplies. They met with Lebanese officials and leaders of the local Armenian community.
According to Sinanyan’s office, as many as 25,000 residents of Lebanon already have Armenian passports or residency permits. More than 100 of them were flown to Yerevan just days after the Beirut blast.
Sinanyan said ahead of his trip to Lebanon that many other community members want to relocate to Armenia “in the medium or long term.” “They cannot do that now because they want to solve issues connected with their properties affected by the explosion,” he explained.
Thousands of ethnic Armenians from Lebanon’s neighbor Syria have fled to Armenia during the bloody conflict in the Arab state. Many of them have struggled to find decent jobs in a country that has long suffered from high unemployment.
Sinanyan, who himself is a U.S. citizen born and raised in Yerevan, cited Armenia’s “limited resources” when he commented on a possible mass immigration of Lebanese Armenians on August 14.
“We would have very much liked to provide all immigrants with free housing, work and the best economic, social and healthcare packages,” the official told a news conference. “But Armenia is not the United States or Switzerland. At any rate, we are ready to do our best.”