Staunton, October 17 – Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011, more than 16,000 ethnic Armenians have come to Armenia, 4,000 during 2015 alone; and officials say that Yerevan is ready to take in 16,000 more, a step that would virtually end the Armenian presence there and put new pressure on Moscow to allow Circassians to return to the North Caucasus.
There were approximately 150,000 Armenians in Syria in 1918, Suren Manukyan, the deputy director of Yerevan’s Museum Institute of the Armenian Genocide says. By 2011, their numbers had dwindled to between 60,000 and 100,000. Now, as the outflow has become a flood, the community numbers only 15,000 or 16,000 (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/270768/).
Since that time, more than 16,000 Syrian Armenians have come to Armenia, according to Firdus Zakaryan, an official at the Armenian government’s diaspora ministry and chairman of the commission on Syrian refugees. Yerevan has not been able to support all of them, but it has contributed in various ways such as free medical help to help them settle in.
He told the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency that “if necessary, Armenia is capable of receiving just as many compatriots from Syria” in the future as it has so far. That would mean another 16,000 and mean in effect the end of the Armenian presence in Syria.
Much of the flow of Armenians from Syria to Armenia is handled by the Armenian Mission, a charitable group supported by the UNHCR. Its coordinator for refugee programs Anzhela Ovsepyan says that any Armenian with a Syrian passport receives helpt; it is not necessary for them to have refugee status.
Armenia’s generosity in this regard, albeit for not entirely unselfish reasons given that country’s demographic problems, contrasts sharply with Russia’s which has refused to open the gates for the return of Circassians from Syria to their North Caucasus homeland. (On this, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/09/actions-in-support-of-repatriation-of.html).
But the Circassians are gaining ever more support among non-governmental groups in the Russian Federation. The latest comes from Damir Mukhetdinov, the first deputy chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Russian Federation and secretary of the International Muslim Forum.
In an article entitled “Russia Does Not Cast Away Its Own! Let Us Save the Adygs [Circassians] of Syria,” the Muslim leader says that it is both politically and morally necessary to help these people escape from a war zone and return to the land from which their ancestors were expelled in 1864 (islamrf.ru/news/world/w-opinions/37907/).
By opposing the Circassian requests for allowing their compatriots to return home for so long, Moscow has once again transformed what had been a limited ethnic issue into a broader religious one, something that will allow the Circassians to count as allies many peoples within the borders of the Russian Federation and beyond.