Armenia -- A Syrian Armenian family from Aleppo at Yerevan airport. 25Oct2016.
Syrian nationals of Armenian descent have continued to relocate to Armenia this year due to the continuing bloody conflict in Syria, Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian said on Friday.
Hakobian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that around 300 Syrian Armenians took refuge in their ancestral homeland in the first half of 2017.
The influx of refugees seems to be continuing, albeit on a smaller scale, despite the virtual end of heavy fighting in Aleppo where most members of Syria’s pre-war Armenian community lived. Syrian government troops regained full control over the war-ravaged city in December.
According to the Armenian government, roughly 22,000 Syrian Armenians have fled to Armenia since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. Some have migrated to Europe and North America for mainly economic reasons.
Many of the remaining refugees are struggling to find jobs in the unemployment-stricken country. Some have opened shops, restaurants and other small businesses, drawing on their business experience in Syria. The Armenian government has encouraged that entrepreneurship by subsidizing business loans extended to them by local commercial banks.
Three years ago, the government set aside commercial space for Syrian Armenian businesses in an underground pass in downtown Yerevan. Dalita Degirmenjian and her husband Hovannes, who fled Aleppo three years ago, opened a small pastry bakery there early this year.
In Degirmenjian’s words, Syrian food is becoming increasingly popular with local Armenians accustomed to a different, less spicy cuisine. “My most in-demand product is katayef,” she said, pointing to a traditional Arab dessert baked by her.
“We’ve grown used to Armenia,” the Syrian Armenian woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “We would go back [to Syria] only to sell our home and shop.”
Asked about her family’s biggest problem in Armenia, Degirmenjian’s singled out housing. Renting an apartment in Yerevan remains a heavy financial burden, she explained.
Another Aleppo native, the 22-year-old Kevork Sukiasian, owns and operates a barber shop in the same commercial area. “Thank God, we have lots of customers,” he said. “We are satisfied.”
Sukiasian also has no plans to return to Syria. He said, though, that while he has expanded his business in the last three years he finds its further growth extremely problematic. “You can’t move forward in this city because the main difficulty is that everything is expensive,” he said. The young man also complained of higher taxes in Armenia.
“Every entrepreneur dreams of paying less taxes and developing their business,” countered Hakobian. “Of course, there are differences between the tax legislations of Syria and Armenia, but I think that our [Syrian Armenian] people are adapting.”
According to the Ministry of the Diaspora, around 2,000 young Syrian Armenians currently study in Armenia’s schools, while 500 others are enrolled in local universities.
The European Union announced on June 20 that it will provide more than $3 million in aid to Syrian refugees in Armenia. It said the funding will support them “by enhancing access to health and psychosocial services, improving housing conditions, increasing access to economic opportunities, and by facilitating the integration of schoolchildren and students.”