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Armenian PM: Syrian Refugees Plan to Stay

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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.
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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.

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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 covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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Comments
     
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.

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