by Yuriy Simonyan

Nezavisimaya Gazeta
Aug 1 2012

The fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo has strengthened migration
sentiments within the local Armenian community. We should not
speak of a mass exodus, but the number of people wishing to travel
to their historical motherland has increased. In connection with
the exacerbation of the situation Armenia's national air carrier -
the Armavia Company - has issued a denial of charges that it hiked
ticket prices on the Armenia-Syria salient and has reported that it
is prepared to organize an additional flight to Syria to bring out
compatriots if it receives assistance from the Armenian authorities.

In all, 3,248 Syrian citizens applied to acquire citizenship of the
Republic of Armenia during the first half of this year. Several dozen
other people requested refugee status. The Armenian State Migration
Service has reported that all requests have been met. In addition,
the authorities recently simplified the rules for Syrian Armenians
to enter the country. They can now obtain visas at the border or in
airports in their historical motherland.

Speaking about the problem associated with a possible influx of
refugees into Armenia, which itself is far from being a model
of socioeconomic conditions and has a high level of unemployment,
representatives of the power structures evasively point out that the
situation remains unpredictable and that it is impossible to guess
in advance how many Armenians will ultimately wish to settle in the
motherland. Even now some of those who have come out of Syria do not
hide the fact that they regard Armenia as a transshipment point or
a safe haven where they can wait for the denouement of the crisis
and decide what to do next, depending on how it ends. On the whole,
not many refugees have announced their firm intention to put down
roots precisely in Armenia.

Armenians have lived in Syria since quite ancient times. The community
grew sharply in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following the
Cilician pogroms or the so-called slaughter in Adana - the first acts
of genocide against Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which peaked
in 1915. As in the case of Armenia today, not all the refugees who
managed to get out of Turkish territory at that time settled in Syria,
and some continued to look for a better fate. Prior to the start of
the present combat clashes the Armenian population of that country
numbered approximately 100,000 (according to the data of the LookLex
encyclopedia, up to 200,000, including Armenians who have adopted
Catholicism -Nezavisimaya Gazeta). The overwhelming majority of
them lived precisely in Aleppo, with somewhat smaller communities
being registered in Damascus and Homs. The Syrian Armenians were
employed in all socioeconomic spheres and at the same time, as a rule,
kept well out of politics. They have maintained their neutrality or
apoliticalness during these days of war as well. Therefore observers
believe that there is no underlying political reason for the mass
exodus of Syrian Armenians, just a threat to personal safety to the
same degree as for any civilian in Syria, regardless of nationality
and faith.

The publication Armenian Weekly has published an analysis of the
situation in which the Armenian diaspora finds itself in this restless
country. The problem of immigration into Armenia is not as simple
as you might imagine, Armenian Weekly writes. Many Armenians are
not prepared to leave Syria, which they have called their home for
decades. If they do get this desire, then another obstacle arises:
They have to leave their homes and property, since the Syrian sales
markets have, for understandable reasons, been paralysed, and without
the money that could have been obtained by selling property life
in Armenia will be attended by other problems. The historian Ara
Sanjian of the University of Michigan believes that the efforts of
the Armenian authorities alone are not enough to resolve the problems
if the departure of Armenians from Syria still assumes a mass nature.

"The government can do little because of the situation in Syria,
because of the weak economy in Armenia itself, and, importantly,
because of very scant knowledge of the realities of the diaspora's
life...," Armenian media cite the academic's words published in
Armenian Weekly. In Sanjian's opinion, the time has come to unite
the nation, which is scattered all over the world: Everyone "must
give moral and physical support to the Armenians in Syria."

A similar viewpoint is adhered to by the Dashnaktsutyun Armenian
Revolutionary Federation, whose branches function in almost all
cities of the world where there is an Armenian community that is
at all noticeable. Commenting on the Syrian question, Kiro Manoyan,
one of the federation's leaders, told Yerevan journalists that it is
expedient to preserve the Armenian community in that country.

According to him, the situation is very complex and delicate: On
no account must the people who wish to move to Armenia be denied
assistance, but it is also inadmissible somehow to encourage this
process or to initiate it.

The majority of Syria's Armenians seem to have decided not to uproot
themselves from the places where they have always lived. According
to recent reports from sources in Aleppo and Damascus, an "Organ of
Operational Assistance for Syria's Armenians" has been formed in
the country, and the community itself is becoming consolidated so
as to be ready to "deal a rebuff to likely difficulties." The clergy
has also mobilized itself. In particular, Aram I, catholicos of the
Great House of Cilicia, has allocated funds for targeted assistance
to specific families experiencing financial difficulties. He has
also charged all the eparchies of the Cilician Catholicosate with
providing material assistance to Syria's religious seminaries.

Incidentally, at the time this issue was being signed to press it
was reported from Yerevan that Syria's consul in Armenia had resigned
and gone over to the opposition.

[translated from Russian]