As the crisis in Syria continues to escalate, thousands of Syrian Armenians have been seeking shelter in their historical motherland.30 November 2016
Forced to flee Aleppo after the shelling of what was Syria’s largest city destroyed their homes, Syrian Armenians have been rebuilding their lives in Armenia.
Their exodus has escalated since September, when Syrian government forces announced the beginning of an operation to liberate the eastern part of Aleppo from rebels. Located mostly in that part of the city, their neighborhoods came under intense shelling, Caucasian Knot reports.
Humanitarian efforts and programs to aid refugees still give hope to those attempting to flee the war. Since May 2015, the money raised by the "Aleppo" charity has helped some 300 people move from Syria to Armenia, and it is planning to bring another 50 people there by the end of the year.
The Syrian Armenians who have left Aleppo told Caucasian Knot about the hardships of life in the line of fire. Aside from the daily test of “coming home from work not knowing if one’s family is alive or not,” there are water shortages and skyrocketing food and gas prices.
The population of Syrian Armenians was estimated at around 220,000 at its peak. Their historic roots in Aleppo go as far back as the 1st century B.C., while the Forty Martyrs Cathedral, a church built in the 15th century, is one of the oldest churches of the Armenian diaspora that is still in use.
The Armenian community had an exponential increase after 1915, when the Ottoman Empire killed and deported as many as 1.5 million Armenians, in what many historians see as genocide, although Turkey rejects the term.
Syria and the rest of the Arab world accepted refugees, and Aleppo’s old Armenian community swelled.
Since the Syrian civil war broke out, Yerevan has said that Armenia is open to all people of Armenian descent, seen as people returning home from the diaspora, rather than refugees. So far, 20,000 Syrian Armenians, a quarter of the total population of 80,000 at the outbreak of the war, have heeded this call.
Still, the road to integration is not free of roadblocks. Although the government granted citizenship to Syrian Armenians to ease their integration, the Armenian economy faces the problem of absorbing such a large population of people into the work force, according to a report by the European Friends of Armenia.
Assimilation of ethnic kin from a different cultural milieu has been another issue. Syrian Armenians, for instance, speak a dialect of Armenian distinct from the prevailing Eastern Armenian dialect used in the home country.