Syrian Armenians Move to Yerevan 17/06/2012
Security fears in Syria make Armenia look a sensible place to take refuge.
By Arpi Harutyunyan , Haykuhi Barseghyan  -
17 Jun 12
Several hundred people have already arrived in Armenia to escape rising violence in Syria, and they say thousands more could be on their way.
“We never thought we’d be able to move from one country to another in just a few months,” said Harutyun Ashakertyan, 58, who has moved to Armenia with his wife and three children. “The situation changed so sharply that it was the best decision. Our prime duty was to ensure the family’s safety.”
His wife Lisa Ashakertyan, 50, said most of the people she knew back in Syria were planning to move to Armenia, as well.
Syria is home to around 80,000 Armenians, most descendants of the survivors of mass killings in the Ottoman Empire from 1915 onwards. Although they are well integrated in Syria, the violence of the last year has forced many to consider leaving.
The influx is likely to increase as President Bashar al-Assad’s forces continue attacking towns around the country, and as his armed opponents put up more resistance. Concentrated in in Aleppo, the Armenian minority is seen as supportive of the Assad government.
Emigrating is difficult when there are few buyers for homes and businesses.
Madlen Sepetjyan, 59, is keen to leave Syria, but is unable to sell her house.
“A few months ago my house was robbed. Every last coin was taken, and it’s just lucky I wasn’t at home or they would have killed me,” she said. “They took all my savings and my gold, and I can’t go to Armenia until I sell my house. We wait for buyers all the time, but no one is coming forward at this tense time.”
Sepetjyan worries how she will support herself in Armenia, since her son has lived there for three years but has yet to find a long-term job that pays decent money.
It is not clear how many of the arriving Syrian Armenians have found work.
According to member of parliament Artsvik Minasyan, they will need help integrating, not least because they speak a different dialect of Armenian.
“The problem is that there is no single strategy for arriving Armenians who need help from the state – from assistance with economic, social and financial issues, to organisational and citizenship questions,” he said.
In response to an opposition question this February, Armenia’s prime minister Tigran Sargsyan said the government would be prepared to help the Armenian community in Syria.
Tevos Nersisyan, of the diaspora ministry, said no resettlement plans had been drawn up, and was still not anticipating a massive influx from Syria.
“It’s impossible to predict how many people will move to Armenia,” he said. He confirmed, however, that Syrian Armenians were constantly getting in contact with his ministry over visas, financial matters and help getting their property through customs.
Analysts say the new arrivals should not put too much strain on the system, especially considering the number of people who have left Armenia in search of work in recent years.
“So many people have left Armenia in recent years that a big influx now wouldn’t cause any economic problems. The reverse is true – the arrival of compatriots will give us new stimulus,” Andranik Tevanyan, director of the Politeconomia think tank, said.
Arpi Harutyuyan is a correspondent for Armnews television. Haykuhi Barseghyan is a correspondent for the Ankakh weekly and www.Ankakh.am.