May 22, 2016, 8:00Pm
While many countries are now seeking quotas limiting Syrian immigration, Armenia has accepted numerous Syrian Armenian, Yazidi and Assyrian refugees even though they have a 17% unemployment rate and are a small country the size of the State of Maryland that is currently embroiled in a political conflict with Azerbaijan. For these refugees, despite the difficulties associated with living in Armenia, it is still better than Syria.
A recent report published by Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently highlighted that out of the 80,000 Armenians who used to live in Syria prior to the Civil War, since 2011, over 17,000 Syrians of Armenian heritage have decided to move to Armenia, where 80 percent of them have decided to remain: “Ethnic Armenians fleeing Syria are finding safe routes to their ancestral homeland, where they are welcomed, resettled and provided citizenship within a few months.”
Like the State of Israel, Armenia offers a right of return to all ethnic Armenians which seek to return to the land of their ancestors via a simplified procedure. “Armenia is home to all people of Armenian background,” said civic activist Ara Sisserian, who lives in Armenian capital city of Yerevan and advocates for newcomers from Syria. “Those Armenians coming from Syria come here because they consider this as their motherland.”
According to the Economist, Armenia, a small country the size of the State of Maryland, has accepted the third largest proportion of Syrian refugees relative to its general population. According to the Huffington Post, while most of the Syrian refugees fleeing to Armenia are Armenians, also Assyrians and Yazidis have been welcomed into the country. Anahit Khosroeva, an Assyrian community activist, leading researcher at the Institute of History and former professor of Chicago University, stated: “We were told by the migration service authorities that the Assyrians would be helped and protected in Armenia just like the Syrian Armenian refugees.”
The report stresses that the Armenian government has been providing the Syrian refugees with free health insurance, scholarships, and has been helping refugees to establish start-ups in a special program in cooperation with UNHCR. They also have an adopt-a-family program, where Syrian refugees are matched with an Armenian host family who helps them integrate into Armenia. As a result, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has thanked Armenia for their efforts. But to date, Armenia has not been receiving the foreign assistance that Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have. Given that 17% of Armenians are unemployed and the country is presently engaged in a political conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that has escalated in recent times, the lack of foreign assistance presents complications for the Armenian authorities in absorbing the refugees. Nevertheless, the Armenian authorities seem determined to continue assisting Syrian refugees at a time when many places are closing their doors to them.
According to Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, Armenians have a long history of living in Syria but since the civil war has broken out, the Armenian community has faced religious and social persecution. When it comes to ISIS, the Armenian community is facing genocide just like the Yazidis are. “The Armenian population has dramatically dropped,” Reverend Haroutioun Selimian, head of a relief organization for Syrian Armenians in Aleppo, told VOA. “Their rights are being violated and their lives are at risk… Ninety Armenian churches are completely or partially destroyed.”
A report from Christian Today earlier this month highlighted that ISIS has been torching Christian homes, raping and torturing Christian girls, and slaughtering them while leaving their disfigured body parts in plastic bags for their relatives to discover. Other Christians have been forced to convert to Islam, beheaded, crucified and deported. The more fortunate ones are forced to wear Islamic dress and pay the Jizya tax while their land is confiscated and the people are utilized as human shields in order to protect ISIS terrorists from the International Coalition against ISIS. According to the US Congress and US Secretary of State John Kerry, these actions constitute genocide.
According to the Armenian National Committee of America: “ANCA welcomes the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s passage of H.Con.Res.75 as an important step in elevating our government’s response to genocide from a political choice to a moral imperative. We cannot continue to treat the recognition of genocide as a geopolitical commodity, to be bartered or bargained away. Our stand against genocide must be unconditional.”
Given these conditions, many Syrian Armenians are desperately seeking to reach Armenia. During the beginning of the Civil War, there were direct flights between Aleppo and Yerevan but those have since been cut off. Now, Armenians are forced to utilize under-ground smuggling networks to Lebanon and from there, they can fly to Armenia.
One of the Syrian Armenians who has recently settled in Yerevan is Adriana: “Contrary to our advice from our local Armenian leaders asking us to stay, my husband and I lost our patience and fled Aleppo in December. We drove our car all the way to the border. With the help of an underground Armenian escape network, we managed to cross the border. After spending almost three months in Lebanon, we flew to Armenia.” According to her, she finally feels safe for when she was leaving Syria, ISIS was approaching their neighborhood. For Armenians like Adriana and her husband, despite the difficulties associated with living in Armenia, it is still significantly better than Syria and many other Middle Eastern countries.