A growing number of Syrian-Armenians are fleeing the escalating violence in their native land and resettling in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Since early 2012, Armenia has been accepting diaspora members seeking to escape Syria’s civil strife. In recent months, 29 refugee families, roughly 90 people overall, have found new homes in Karabakh’s Kashatagh District. “There are many other Syrian-Armenians who want to move here, but they still live in Yerevan trying to find work there. Many of them have contacted us to ask about moving to the district,” said Robert Matevosyan, head of district government’s Resettlement Department.
Matevosyan, added that about half of the recently arrived refugee families had received housing and a plot of land. The remainder were “on their way to getting all this,” he said.
According to central government data, about 6,000 Syrian-Armenians have arrived in Armenia since the outbreak of violence in Syria. Overall, about 100,000 ethnic Armenians were believed to be living in Syria at the start of 2012.
Nationalist sentiment appears to be a factor in the resettlement aspirations of at least some of the refugees in Kashatagh. One, 55-year-old Mushegh Aroyan, stated; “patriotism drove me here. We need to live on our land.”
A physical therapist by training, Aroyan resettled in the district town of Kovsakan with his wife and children. Originally, the family lived in Qamishli, a city in northeastern Syria. Initially, he described conditions in Kovsakan as crude, but now he says the situation is improving “little by little.”
“Our possibilities are limited, but I am still thankful,” he added. “I have a plot of land, a house and employment. … Since September, my wife and I have been working in Kovsakan hospital; I work as a therapist, while she is an epidemiologist.”
Vardan Poghosyan, 29, was also driven by a sense of patriotic duty to bring his wife and year-old daughter in late 2012 from Qamishli to Berdzor, another town in Kashatagh. “I’ve chosen Berdzor. That’s it. I’m going to live here,” he said. He currently works as an accountant.
“The living conditions are fine, but the salary is very low and is barely enough to support the family, but I think everything will be alright, I’m farming a patch of land too. I have a few hectares of land and we have recently sowed wheat and barley,” said Poghosyan, whose family still lives in temporary housing.
Charities in Karabakh and Armenia proper are providing assistance to the newcomers. One initiative launched last September, called Help Your Brother, sends humanitarian aid to Syria and raises funds for housing construction and other resettlement necessities, said Lilit Galstyan, a former MP and a leader of the initiative.
The Armenian government is keeping a low profile when it comes to resettlement in Karabakh, due to the unsettled nature of the region’s political status. Negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan on a permanent political settlement for the territory remain stalemated. Azerbaijani officials have issued an official note of protest and expressed concerns about the resettlement in the Kashatagh District.
Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan and editor of MediaLab.am. Anahit Hayrapetyan is a freelance photojournalist also based in Yerevan.