Syrian-Armenians’ Issues in Armenia16 m. | 2019-07-31
Numbers and distribution
T he Syrian crisis in 2011, prompted the large exodus of Armenians from Syria establishing a number of Syrian-Armenians’ settlement in Armenia. Based on the data from the previous Ministry of Diaspora, the number of Syrian-Armenians who came to Armenia as a result of the war, was 22 thousand , however, not all Syrian-Armenians settled in the country. After the end of large-scale military activity, many rather than returning to Syria moved on to other countries, while some of them returned to Syria (Aleppo, Kesab and so on). The observation based on the data of various years shows, that the number of Syrian-Armenians living in Armenia has had a tendency to decline. According the UN data there were about 15 thousand at the beginning of 2017 . According to the data of Migration Service under the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure, the current number of Syrian-Armenians living in Armenia is 14.000 . Besides the official data, there is also non-official information: based on the data of the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues, their numbers are much more modest, about 7000.
However, a considerable number, who came to Armenia, still continue to remain here, in their historical homeland. Although the large-scale and active phase of the war in Syria has already finished (by the liberation of Aleppo at the end of 2016), the flow of Syrian-Armenians to Armenia still continues. In 2018, 63 Syrian-Armenians arrived to Armenia and applied to the RA Ministry of Diaspora for arriving .
There is no precise statistics on the distribution of Syrian-Armenians in Armenia. However, the majority of them are settled in Yerevan. As a response to our inquiry, the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians said that few Syrian-Armenians have settled in the areas close to the capital city, such as in Echmiadzin, Abovyan, Charentsavan. The number of newcomers is small in farther areas such as in Dilijan or Artsakh.
Besides, there are other statistical data as well, which also shed light on the distribution of Syrian-Armenians in Armenia. Particularly, it refers to the number of Syrian-Armenian children studying at the RA primary and secondary educational institutions. Based on the data provided to the Ministry of Diaspora by the Yerevan Municipality, 470 Syrian-Armenian pupils have been studying in 73 basic educational institutions of Yerevan and 174 pupils in 54 basic educational institutions outside Yerevan in 2018. 86 Syrian-Armenian children were attending 46 pre-school educational institutions in Yerevan .
Spiritual-Cultural perspectives of integration
T here are no spiritual-cultural barriers in the issue of Syrian-Armenian integration into Armenian society. There are language (Eastern Armenian- Western Armenian) and lifestyle differences between them. Among the language issues are the frequent use of Russian words in oral speech in Armenia which was at first unclear for Syrian-Armenians. According to Shahe Keshishyan who has repatriated from Syria, Russian language mentality is also a problem, when the speaker first thinks in Russian and then translates and expresses his thoughts in Armenian . As to the lifestyle differences, as Shahe Keshishyan points out, it’s odd to them, for instance, the abundance of precious cars in tinted glass in Yerevan, which seems like an act of boasting. There wasn’t this kind of thing in Syria, as the dominant part of the society, that is the middle class, mostly strived for comfort not for luxury. Nevertheless, both the Armenian Armenians and Syrian-Armenians are part of a society with a common mentality and are completely perceptible to each other.
Syrian-Armenians, being a part of the Far Middle East’s Armenian community, which is mostly in an Islamic environment, have largely preserved their national identity (language, religion, historical memory, culture and so on) than the Armenian communities of other places, such as Europe, America and Post-Soviet countries.
The best example of this is the speedy integration of Syrian-Armenian children in Armenian schools. As we have been told by the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues, some families who returned to Syria had to come back to Armenia, for the sake of their children, who were completely admitted to their Armenian peers and called the Armenian education more intimate, wished to live and get their education in Armenia.
M ost of the integration problems of the Syrian-Armenians in the Armenian society are social-economic:
- Status issue (citizenship, residency, refugee status)
- Housing issue
- Employment issue
- Health issue
- Ease of education.
The following institutions are involved in supporting Syrian-Armenians in the following issues:
- The state, mainly the Ministry of Diaspora, which in 2019 turned into the Office of the Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs ,
- Armenian public and charity organizations,
- Diaspora structures,
- International organizations (UN, EU and so on).
Besides the following institutions, there is also an established Syrian-Armenian self-organizational structure, such as the “Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues” , “Syrian-Armenian Union” NGOs, “Aleppo” and “Kesab” patriotic unions. The latter’s activity are also directed to supporting Syrian-Armenians settled in Armenia. These state, non-state and international institutions cooperate for supporting Syrian-Armenians.
Every Year the integration process acceleration of Syrian-Armenians and Iraqi-Armenians in the Republic of Armenia is involved within the list of major issues of the Government .
According to the RA Ministry of Diaspora’s report, in 2018, 978 Syrian-Armenians applied to the Ministry with 997 issues, 669 of which are on medical care, 128 for housing support, 58 for employment, 39 for education, 52 for legal documentation, 51 for other issues . That is, the main problems of Syrian-Armenians settled in Armenia, with which they apply to state bodies are for healthcare. Housing support issue is in second place. The employment issue is in third place and is comparably less. The reason is possibly that Syrian-Armenians arrived in Armenia usually solve their employment issue through small individual or family business and do not have any problem with applying to employers.
As to the status, we should mention, that according to the data provided by the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues, the majority of Syrian-Armenians who came to Armenia, have Armenian citizenship. They are dual citizens, as they maintain Syrian citizenship as well. The acquisition of the RA citizenship by the majority of Syrian-Armenians is due to the following factors:
- First one is a simplified way of provision of citizenship by the RA. Most of them even received the RA passport from the Embassy of the RA in Syria before coming to Armenia. According to the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues, the Armenian members of families formed as a result of mixed marriages, whose surnames are not Armenian, faced difficulties in receiving citizenship, as the issue on their ethnic identity becomes controversial.
- Second factor is psychological. Syrian-Armenians do not see themselves as being refugees in Armenia, as they call it their homeland. From the standpoint of national dignity, refugee status is offensive for most of Syrian-Armenians.
- Citizenship status is much more favorable than refugee status, as a citizen enjoys numerous civil rights, which the refugee cannot do, besides, each state has some social and other obligations over its citizens, which it doesn’t have over the refugees. For example Syrian Armenians having RA citizenship, can use long-term and preferential loans like any other Armenian citizens in order to solve their housing issues, which the refugees cannot do. Shahen Keshishyan, a Syrian-Armenian repatriate, is going to solve his housing issues just that way: he is going to pledge his future apartment to a bank, take a loan, pay for the apartment and later repay the loan over the years, at the same time using the opportunity of repaying loan interest at the expense of income tax.
“The breath of Syrian-Armenian culture in Yerevan” charity exhibition-fair
The housing issue is solved in various ways. As the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues reported, one part of the Syrian-Armenians lived in hostels, such as Avan and Silikyan settlements in Yerevan. Another considerable part of Syrian-Armenians benefit from the partial compensation of their housing (100$) by charity institutions. There were also cases, when Syrian-Armenian could take advantage of the housing program with preferential loan through a state intervention. For instance, a Syrian-Armenian intellectual repatriate, who didn’t wish to publicize his name, tried to take advantage of the affordable housing program for young scientists, unfortunately him and his wife's combined age didn’t meet the criteria of the program.
The three newly built buildings especially for Syrian-Armenians in Davtashen District, Yerevan, play a significant role in the issue of providing them with apartments. One of them is built by ARF “Help your brother” initiative and the other two are built by Syrian-Armenians. The apartments are going to be sold at lower prices compared with the market.
Yet, the failure of the program of building “New Aleppo” district in Ashtarak is a serious flaw from the standpoint of providing Syrian-Armenians with apartments. 5 years ago, a territory was provided by the city authorities, certain design and other works were done. Though, the program was suspended because of not having the necessary funds. During this period, the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues paid an annual 1 million AMD tax.
Program on the “New Aleppo” districts.
The issue of employment of newly come Syrian-Armenians can be divided into a few groups. The craftsmen, who are highly qualified specialists in their fields and are able to successfully find a job. They best demonstrate themselves in culinary, car repairing, jewelry making and other fields. Some Syrian-Armenians also work in the field of service.
It is comparably easy for those Syrian-Armenians, who get a higher education in Armenia and are familiar with the professional environment. For instance, Syrian-Armenian doctor-cardiologist George Barseghyan, who works at “Nairi” medical center, musician Shahe Keshishyan, who works at the Armenian State Academic Choir, is a choirmaster of the Gevorgyan Seminary graduate deacons at Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, is a choir conductor at a newly built Church at Komitas street in Yerevan and in several other institutions. The above mentioned Syrian-Armenian intellectual works at the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography at National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and at Yerevan State University.
It is a little bit difficult for Syrian-Armenian Pedagogues, who cannot find a job in Armenia mainly because of language difficulty, as the teaching here is in Eastern Armenian.
The main employment problem still remains the low salary (income), but it is not only typical of Syrian-Armenians, but rather characterizes the general situation in Armenia. It’s also worth mentioning another issue of Syrian-Armenians, that their work activity in Syria, particularly in Syrian-Armenian community sometimes lasting for years, is not considered a working experience in Armenia, which is a serious obstacle both in professional development and in the solution of social problems. This issue is just of bureaucratic-paper nature .
As business is the main path of employment for Syrian-Armenians, the Government of the Republic of Armenia has taken steps to support them. Syrian-Armenian businessmen are provided with preferential loans and “Syrian-Armenian spirit of culture in Yerevan” charity fairs are organized periodically.
At a session held on August 3, 2017, the Government of the RA with the mediation of Diaspora and Economic Development and Investment Ministries provided the “Union of Syrian-Armenians” with a free use of more than 1500 square meters area in Yerevan, Komitas 49/3 building, so as to implement a business plan in 5 years term, for the sake of creating favorable business conditions for Syrian-Armenians .
Development Foundation of Armenia (currently known as Business Armenia) also provided advice and other assistance to Syrian-Armenian businessmen. On December 19, 2017, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Foundation and partnership-organizations (German Agency for International Cooperation or (GIZ), “Economic Integration of Syrian Refugees in Armenia” project, “Repat Armenia” Foundation, “Armenian Caritas” Benevolent NGO, “Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues” and “Union of Syrian-Armenians NGOs), with which the Foundation together with his business support club was ready to assist Syrian-Armenian businessmen in accounting, law, business registration, auditing, logistics and tax consulting issues at least in a two-month term and later with significant discounts .
Charity Campaign for helping Syrian-Armenians
Solving the health problems of the Syrian-Armenians the state carries out both state-order programs and cooperates with other organizations. On March 17, 2017, “Medical assistance to needy Syrian-Armenians living in Armenia” project was launched at “Izmirlyan” Medical Center, and a cooperation memorandum was signed. The aim of the project was to give medical assistance to those Syrian-Armenians in need, who were not involved or were partially involved in the state order medical assistance project. The project was co-funded by “Izmirlyan” Charity Foundation and Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, and the RA Ministry of Diaspora, AGBU office in Armenia, “Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues” NGO, and “Aleppo” Patriotic Union were the partner institutions. As a result of the project, 311 Syrian-Armenians received free medical assistance since April 1- December 25, 2017 .
A Medical Center for Syrian-Armenians was opened at AGBU’s Vahe Karapetyan Center, in Yerevan funded by the Union and has 4 departments: Cardiology, Women’s Health, Pediatrics and ear, nose, throat department. At this center, the service mostly by the Syrian-Armenian doctors is free of charge. According to the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues, the patients are quite a lot: first because of some language problems (Armenian doctors are mostly Russian-speaking), and second, prophylactic, preventive medical culture is rather typical among Syrian-Armenians. Hence, they often visit medical centers.
The educational issues of Syrian-Armenians are largely related to the access of higher education. In order to solve this issue, the state, in cooperation with diaspora’s charity institutions, carries out a policy of tuition fee reimbursement of Syrian-Armenians studying at Armenian universities. Initially the reimbursement was done on full reimbursement. Later the partial reimbursement principle was applied. In 2016-2017, 70% of tuition fees of 436 Syrian-Armenian students studying at Armenian universities and colleges were reimbursed due to the co-financing of the RA Government, AGBU and “Galust Gulbenkyan” Foundation . The other 30% of the most needy 25 students’ tuition fees out of the above mentioned 436 Syrian-Armenians students were paid by the Fund for Armenian Relief . 441 beneficiaries applied for the partial reimbursement of 2017-2018 tuition fees. 60% reimbursement of the tuition fees of these students were paid due to the co-financing of the RA Government, AGBU, “Galust Gulbenkyan” Foundation and “Saint Sargis” Foundation . For 2018-2019 academic year. The RA Government and “Galust Gulbenkyan” Foundation envisages 50% reimbursement of Syrian-Armenian students. The number of registered beneficiaries is 294, 50% of 47 students’ tuition fees (about 13 million 700 thousand AMD) will be reimbursed by the RA Government .
According to the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues, for 2019-2020 only 40% of tuition fees of Syrian-Armenian students will be reimbursed and the beneficiaries will be those who enjoyed the right of reimbursement in previous years. Moreover, the maximum threshold for reimbursement is 320 thousand AMD. This threshold was 400 thousand AMD for 2018-2019 academic year.
Besides contributing to the solution of social-economic issues of Syrian-Armenians, the State has provided them with legal-documentary advice. In July 2018, the Ministry of Diaspora in cooperation with partner institutions (RA Chamber of Advocates, Armenian Representative Office of American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Armenia, “Galust Gulbenkyan” Foundation) published the handbook of “Frequently Asked Questions on legal Issues” in Western Armenian for people displaced from Syria and from other conflict places. It was funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration . This handbook was periodically edited and reprinted.
- One of the main problems during the repatriation period of Syrian-Armenians was the unpreparedness of the state, as well as the charity organizations of Armenia and Diaspora. Thus, despite the remarkable work done, their efforts did not amount to the actual effort put in from the first place.
- Taking into account the fact that the Syrian war has not ended yet, and there are still Armenian communities in the Middle Eastern countries, as well as in other hot spots in the world, Armenia should further be ready for the influx of people from other countries as well.
- Actually, the readiness for the spontaneous repatriation will prevent the risks, and will make the solution to the issues of repatriates and their smooth integration into the Armenian society more efficient.
 United Nations in Armenia, 2017, p. 24-25.
 Interview of Armen Ghazaryan, Head of Migration Service of the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development of the RA, to the Public Television Company’s ”News, 60 minutes: Main Report” program, 20.06.2019
 See the same.
 The following issue is mostly typical of the Armenians, particularly to the youth, living in Russia for a long time and later returned to their homeland, which in its turn is a result of the widespread out-of-work migration.
 Other ministries are also involved in the issue of supporting Syrian-Armenians settled in Armenia. However, the Ministry of Diaspora played the main role.
 Established in 2012.
 The same refers to the graduates of Aleppo Pan-National Armenological Higher Institution, who cannot continue their education in Armenia, as the Institution is not considered a University in Armenia.
 Same place.
 Same place