USA Today: Armenia tries to help as Christian Armenians flee Syria

An estimated 7,000 of Syria’s Christian-Armenian community have arrived in Armenia since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad, USA Today writes.

Sarkiss Rshdouni escaped the fighting in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo months ago but cannot shake memories of what he witnessed.

“I was with a friend when I heard gunshots,” said Rshdouni, who is among hundreds of thousands of people who have fled the war in his country. “It was fast — second by second, the sound was getting closer. I saw mass shooting, people running.”

Aleppo is home to more than 80% of Syria’s Armenian community, and those who are still there remain at the center of the battle for control of the country.

“The Christian-Armenian community in Syria is relatively small — between 60,000 and 100,000 people according to estimates — but its history has added to its unease. Armenians in Syria are descendants of people who fled to Syria after escaping a genocide against Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in World War I,” the article reads.

Many worry the same can happen in Syria, where the Christian Armenians are again at the mercy of Muslim factions at war, and they are desperate to get out.

“Syrian Air has rerouted all flights because of the conflict in Aleppo,” said Gevorg Abrahamyan, press secretary of ZvartontsInternationalAirport in Armenia. “There’s a flight arriving once a week now from Latakia (in Syria) to Yerevan.”

“Syrian Armenians are arriving every week,” said Firdus Zakarian, chief of staff at the Armenian Ministry of Diaspora’s commission for Syrian-Armenian issues. “It is hard for Armenia. We do not have the strongest economy, but we are trying to do everything we can so they don’t feel more pain.”

To date, the Ministry of Diaspora estimates that more than 7,000 of Syria’s Christian Armenian community have arrived in Armenia since the start of the conflict.

Armenian authorities are trying to find ways to speed the exit from Syria and make the adjustment to life here easier. The authorities have simplified the visa process out of Syria. Elementary schools have been established that teach classes in the Arabic language that Syrian-Armenian children have grown up with, according to a familiar Syrian curriculum.

One such school is the CilicianSchool funded by a charitable organization and the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Diaspora in Armenia. There are 300 students and 16 new teachers, all of whom lost their jobs in Syria.

“It was difficult for them at first, but they are now slowly adapting to their new lives,” said Nora Pilibosian, director of the CilicianSchool in Yerevan. “Of course they miss their homes, their relatives and their toys, but they are adjusting.”

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