Former Official Proposes Relocation of Armenians to Kessab
Seated in a noisy Yerevan cafe, I was intently listening to an Armenian from Aleppo and a former official tell me about the plight of Armenians still residing in Syria.
I wanted to get a few facts straight and this guy knew what was going on regionally and within the Armenian community. He only had one condition – that he remain anonymous.
“Do you understand? The life of every Armenian is precious for me. The situation is very delicate,” he said, claiming that both the government and opposition are following the movements of Armenians and the Armenian press. Every word is translated, he said, and thus his wish to remain anonymous.
Armenian community in Syria has shrunk by one-third
He said that before the war started in 2011 there were between 45,000 and 50,000 Armenians in Aleppo, 12,000-15,000 in the Qamishli region, 8,000-10,000 in Damascus, 6,000-8000 in Latakia, and lesser numbers in other towns. He told me that these figures have dropped by one-third today. Most have left, never to return. It’s not fear or insecurity that has forced them to leave, but rather that they’ve lost everything.
“Work, getting around normally is a concern for Arabs, Armenians and Christian Arabs. First of all the former manufacturing base no longer exists because the local market, sadly, is mostly in the hands of the Turks,” he said. The hundred or so Armenian entrepreneurs that once operated there have had their properties seized by the rebels, he claims.
On the other hand, sixteen state organizations have relocated to the safer Armenian neighborhoods in Aleppo. “They have taken over our houses and are sitting in them. And who can you go to and say, ‘Excuse me, what are you doing.’” He noted.
Regarding the number one priority for Armenians today in Syria, the man told me it is relocation. He suggests that a segment of Armenians be relocated to the Armenian town of Kessab in the seaside district of Latakia. Given that it’s located in a government controlled zone, the town hasn’t experienced the physical and monetary losses occurring elsewhere.
75% of money spent to provide assistance from Armenia is squandered
The man also claims that only 25% of the money being spent to send assistance (foodstuffs and clothing) to Syria from Armenia actually translates into tangible goods. The rest is squandered along the way.
“Why are they sending rice and sugar? We have loads of rice. Everything can be found in Aleppo. I guess whoever is sending that assistance doesn’t realize that if cash was sent instead, they’d be helping 500 families instead of 100.”
The man tells me that cash can be sent though internal channels and spent more efficiently and for more important needs like telecommunications.
To prove his point, the man says that he can purchase one kilo of sugar in Aleppo for $1 U.S., whereas it takes $3 to get one kilo sent from Armenia. Thus, he argues that before any assistance is sent, the two sides need to communicate better and define what the real needs of the Syrian-Armenian community are.
Continuing, he says that the community in Syria actually expects diplomatic support from Armenia more than material assistance. This would include, for example, relocating Armenians internally, and then to Armenia.
He also mocks as hollow statements emanating out of Armenia that the procedure for granting RA citizenship for Syrian-Armenians has been simplified. To prove his point, he says he had to pay 50,000 AMD ($125 U.S.) to get RA passports for him and his wife on an expedited basis.
In closing, he stressed that it was vital to better coordinate and manage affairs in Armenia regarding the immediate concerns of Syrian-Armenians. Only then, he argues, can we get a better handle on what our compatriots in Syria need and how we can help.
With this aim, he proposes that a special advisory council comprised of representatives from Armenia and the diaspora be convened whose sole agenda would be the Syrian-Armenian issue.
Photo: The Washington Post