Armenia’s national air carrier Armavia on Monday suspended indefinitely its regular flights from Yerevan to Syria’s Aleppo and back, citing increased danger of flying over what is now a war zone as well as lack of communication with Syrian air traffic controllers.
Armavia, which together with Syria’s Syrian Air company, in recent weeks has been operating flights to and from Syria – a vital link with Armenia for thousands of Syria’s ethnic Armenians – also referred to the statement issued recently by the Free Syrian Army that beginning September 3 rebels were prepared to shoot down all planes that appear in the airspace near Damascus and Aleppo. Syria’s rebels claim the government is using civilian aircraft to supply its troops with weapons.
During August Yerevan saw an increased influx of ethnic Armenians fleeing from violence in Syria that has been engulfed in an internal conflict since March 2011. Armavia, which suspended its flights to Aleppo in March citing security concerns, resumed them in early July, later also making additional flights to cater to the growing demand among Syria’s ethnic Armenian population suffering from the continuing civil war. In particular, it brought to Yerevan a total of 430 children from Syria for two-week summer holidays in Armenia.
According to the data of Armenia’s Diaspora Ministry, 5,000 Syrian Armenians have arrived in Armenia since January this year. Of them, 3,300 have already gone back. Head of staff at the Ministry Firdus Zakaryan, who coordinates the work of the group dealing with arriving Syrian Armenians, told ArmeniaNow that at this moment about 1,700 Syrian Armenians still remain in Armenia.
“And their number will reduce gradually, because people left their property and everything in Syria and came here for the summer. Now they are going back, this is a natural process. We expect only about 60 Syrian Armenian families to remain here,” said Zakaryan.
The official did not specify how exactly most of these Armenians are going to travel back to Syria in the absence of a vital air link with this country.
Earlier, the Armenian government made several decisions simplifying procedures for Syrian Armenians to acquire Armenian citizenship as well as exempting them from some state dues in Armenia connected with the extension of their visas.
Meanwhile, another ethnic Armenian was killed in Syria on Monday bringing the total number of deaths among the country’s estimated 80,000-strong Armenian community since the beginning of the conflict to 15. The Foreign Ministry of Armenia identified the victim as Lusaber Yacoubian, saying that she died as a result of an explosion in the Armenian-populated Jaramana district of Damascus. Three Armenian men were killed in unknown circumstances on the outskirts of the Syrian capital last week. Representatives of the local Armenian community said they were random victims rather than were killed because of being Armenians or Christians.
Syrian Armenian families intent on staying in Armenia are trying to settle down and solve some of the basic problems they face here – finding jobs, buying homes, sending children to school. The Ministry of Education and Science says a total of 210 children of Syrian Armenians had applied for school in Armenia – of them 107 for a place in primary school and 103 in high school. The Diaspora Ministry, meanwhile, is getting requests from Syrian Armenians mainly on issues related to accommodation, employment, secondary and higher education, healthcare.
In a related event, a decision by immigration authorities to turn away an eight-member family from Syria at the airport caused a controversy in Armenia last week. The family was sent back to Istanbul, from where it came, after spending three days in the Zvartnots airport’s transit area. Those seeking entry visas to Armenia were an Arab woman who is married to an Armenian man, her two Armenian daughters and their five children. The Armenian women, however, were married to Arameans (a small community of the ancient Christian ethnicity live in northern Syria) rather than Armenians and their children, therefore, were not considered Armenian. Under the current order, only Syrian nationals who can confirm their Armenian origin with relevant documents can get entry visas at Armenia’s border crossing points.