The office of Zareh Sinanyan, the Armenian government’s high commissioner for Diaspora affairs, says that the vast majority of them have expressed a desire to stay in their ancestral homeland for good.
According to various estimates, there are between 80,000 and 120,000 Armenians living in Lebanon at present. The once thriving community struggled to cope with Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis even before the August 4 explosion which killed 181 people and left tens of thousands of other Beirut residents homeless.
Following the blast the Armenian government faced growing calls to facilitate the “repatriation” of Lebanese Armenians. Government officials stressed that they are free to immigrate to Armenia, pointing to twice-a-week Beirut-Yerevan flights carried out despite coronavirus-related restrictions imposed in both countries.
Aline Galemkerian, an Armenian woman from Beirut, arrived in Yerevan with her two young sons two weeks ago. One of the boys is already taking piano lessons there.
Galemkerian said she and her husband had decided to relocate to Armenia and try to start a new life there even before the Beirut blast that seriously damaged their apartment.
“I wish we had not seen [the blast] and come here much earlier because it affected us a lot in many ways,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“I kept crying,” she said. “Tears in my eyes would not dry up for days. We lost many Armenian and Arab friends.”
Galemkerian’s husband will join the family soon. “If my husband finds a job here we will stay here [for good,]” said the young woman. “I feel good here. But I don’t know if we can have the same [living] standards if we live and work here.”
Another Beirut Armenian, Elias Kalajian, owned and ran a small company manufacturing furniture in the Lebanese capital until moving to Armenia last week.
“I arrived alone. My son and his wife are coming here on Monday,” he said, adding that his other son plans to join them later on.
Kalajian said that he would like to set up a similar furniture firm in Yerevan and has already asked the Armenian Ministry of Economy to help him find and rent premises for his small factory. The ministry has promised to explore the possibility of such assistance.
While being mindful of Armenia’s own economic problems aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, Kalajian seemed upbeat about doing business in the country. “I must definitely try to work and succeed here,” he said.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service late last month, Sinanyan said that his office is now working on a “social, economic, educational and healthcare package” aimed at facilitating the immigration of Lebanese Armenians. “We want to bring them to Armenia,” said the official. “We do not want them to move to another country.”
Kalajian confirmed that more Lebanese Armenians are now thinking about settling in Armenia. “Many friends told me: ‘You go there and we’ll follow you,’” he said. “They want to see what I can achieve here before they decide to come here. If they are encouraged they too will come.”
“Just like me, they have families, children and grandchildren,” added the businessman. “Everyone wants to come. But they need a bit of encouragement.”