News / Europe

Armenian PM: Syrian Refugees Plan to Stay

It started as a trickle.  Now it is a flow.

When the fighting began in Syria, some of the country's Syrian Armenians began to head to Armenia, but as the fighting has intensified so has the number of those looking to their ancestral homeland.  Now, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan says there are about 7,000 Syrian Armenians in Armenia and that many are losing hope of ever going back.

Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan speaks to VOA's Armenian Service, December 24, 2012.Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan speaks to VOA's Armenian Service, December 24, 2012.
Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan speaks to VOA's Armenian Service, December 24, 2012.
Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan speaks to VOA's Armenian Service, December 24, 2012.
"As the fighting continues, Syrians in Armenia begin making plans for the future," Sargsyan said in an exclusive interview with VOA's Armenian service.  "Recently we met with Syrian Armenians at the Armenian president’s office.  Many Syrian Armenians are interested in moving their businesses to Armenia."

Most the refugees are from Syria's commercial hub of Aleppo, home to an estimated 80,000 of the country's more than 100,000 mostly Christian Syrian Armenians.  Many of them located to Syria in the early 1900s, fleeing the Ottoman Empire.

Some left in a hurry, grabbing only a handful of items.  Others packed as much as they could carry, traveling in convoys for several days, through northern Syria and Turkey to get to the Armenian border.

Sargsyan says the longer they stay, the more they feel that staying in Armenia is their only choice.

"The challenges in front of us are helping them in transferring finances, moving equipment, getting bank credit and assistance in working in Armenia," he said.

  • A Syrian-Armenian family waits at the departure gate at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan, Armenia, December 2012. (VOA/D. Markosian)
  • Syrian-Armenians at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan, Armenia, December 2012. (VOA/D. Markosian)
  • A Syrian-Armenian national holds his Syrian and Armenian passports at the Zvartnots Airport, December 2012. (VOA/D. Markosian)
  • Students outside the Cilician School in Yerevan, Armenia, December 2012. (VOA/D. Markosian)
  • Students at the Cilician School, which was opened in Yerevan to allow Syrian-Armenian students to follow a Syrian curriculum at an Armenian state school, December 2012. (VOA/D. Markosian)
  • Students at the Cilician School in Yerevan, Armenia, December 2012. (VOA/D. Markosian)
  • Workers load humanitarian aid for Syria at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan, Armenia, December 2012. (VOA/D. Markosian)
  • A panoramic view of Yerevan, Armenia, December 2012. (VOA/D. Markosian)

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has promised the Syrian Armenians his government will do whatever it can to help them for as long as necessary.  

Armenia has already eased visa requirements and has set up a school in Yerevan, free of charge, that teaches the Syrian curriculum so that students do not fall behind in their studies.  It has also been helping to house refugees who do not have relatives in Armenia with whom they can stay.

Still, as the flow of refugees grows, so does the strain on Armenia's resources.

The International Monetary Fund's most recent outlook - October 2012 - put Armenia's unemployment rate at 19 percent, forecasting the jobless rate will remain above 17 percent at least through 2017.  And even with the economy slowly gaining steam following a dramatic drop during the financial crisis, the World Bank says poverty remains a problem.

Armenia's government has been spending money on targeted social programs and on increased pensions, hoping a slowly improving economy will ease the burden.  Still, the flow of refugees from Syria, especially those who owned their own businesses, may pose another obstacle.

According to the World Bank, more than 12 percent of Armenia's economy depends on remittances.  Some of those payments came from the diaspora community in Syria.

For now, Armenia remains determined to do what it can for the refugees.

"We are trying to find solutions to all their social and economic needs," the prime minister told VOA.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Robert from: London
December 27, 2012 2:49 AM
They did not flee the Ottoman Empire. They fled because the Turks were committing genocide against the Armenians in 1915. Over 1.5 million Armenians perished in the Armenian Genocide.

by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
December 25, 2012 2:16 PM
It is good to see that Armenia has stepped up to help refugees from Syria; this is a great humanitarian and compasionate act that deserves recognition and support. Armenia is not a financially wealthy country; the UN and Western nations need to help Armenia financially to ensure it can provide adequate help to the refugees.

The EU is always grandstanding and providing financial support to "militant islamists", let us see if they step up and provide help to Christian refugees, that once again have lost it all. The article indicates that they are the descendants of Armenians that suffered the Ottoman progroms, which were horrendous; the Ottoman's brutality left people scarrred for many generations; it is sad to see these victims suffering once again.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs