Kantsasar, the only Armenian newspaper in war-torn Aleppo, is still being published. Zarmig Chilaposhyan-Poghigian, Kantsasar's editor, says that the staff will do all that it can to see that it survives despite the war raging in the city. The paper publishes 600 copies per edition and has 19,000 readers on-line. Electricity in Aleppo comes and goes; only a few hours a day. When it’s off, people can’t read the on-line edition. Zarmig says that many get their news from it.
The editor says that civilian residents are being terrorized daily and are fighting to survive. Zarmig tells Hetq that for the past week terrorist factions have been shelling civilian areas. Armenian causalities have risen of late, given that the Armenian neighborhoods are close to the areas held by the armed groups.
In the past five years, according to Zarmig, the Armenian population of Aleppo has seen 200 dead and as many wounded. The editor says that most died while serving in the Syrian army and others while defending Armenian neighborhoods. Others have fallen victim to indiscriminate shelling. Some have been kidnapped and no information as to their plight is available.
Zarmig says that 8,000-10,000 Armenians remain in Aleppo. This is an unofficial number.
“Conditions on the ground change daily. We are living in a war zone. Previously it was relatively peaceful and the desire to emigrate had lessened. This week things got unexpectedly worse due to reasons we all know. The Syrian Army has made advances and the armed groups are doing all to create chaos in the civilian populace. They have started to shell them. Thus, these numbers are not static,” says Zarmig.
The editor says that Aleppo Armenians are in need of all types of assistance.
“The authorities in Armenia are trying to coordinate these steps with local organizations. In a war situation, it is assumed that such measures must be coordinated to see what the needs are, and not to merely heed statements in the press,” says Zarmig, reflecting on the work of the press.
Zarmig says that the media sometimes sows chaos and publishes statistics or opinions without verification. “Random statements and opinions published on-line just make the already difficult situation of Aleppo Armenians worse,” says the Kantsasar editor.
Another 100 Syrian-Armenians to be relocated to Armenia
Between 2015 and 2016, some 250 Syrian-Armenians came to Armenia through the auspices of the Aleppo Patriotic-Benevolent NGO. Another 100 are scheduled to arrive by November. Founded in 2015, 5,615 Syrian-Armenians (1,640 families) have registered for aid. Aleppo NGO Director Hayasa Tahmazian told Hetq that they receive financial support from benefactors. The parish council of the St. Kevork Armenian Church in Huston, Texas, has purchased 160 airplane tickets for Syrian-Armenians to come to Armenia.
“We fled with the clothes on our back”
Raffi Simonian, a barber from Aleppo who arrived in Yerevan a little over three months ago, says that the number one priority must be to save those remaining in Syria.
“We fled with the clothes on our back,” says Raffi, who made it to Yerevan with help from a friend.
Raffi’s three brothers and mother are in Aleppo. They want to come to Armenia. Raffi says that the Armenian government must take care of Aleppo Armenians. It has to build houses for them, he says.
“They have to find work, in order not to beg. They have to eat. I’m not saying they have to eat meat every day. One day macaroni, the next, something else. The important thing is to be self-sufficient,” says the barber from Aleppo.
The only solution, according to Raffi, is that Turkey collapses so that Syria can be at peace.
“They all want to come, but they have no money”
He says that “they all want to come to Armenia, but they have no money.” A bit later he says that only the wealthy are able not to want to relocate since they are concerned about their assets.
Bedros Kirazian and his family came to Armenia from Aleppo four years ago. He now sells spices and condiments in Yerevan.
His brother, nieces and friends remain in Aleppo. Bedros speaks to them often. “Due to the noise of the shelling, they haven’t slept for the past month. A rocket fell next to our house in Nor Kyugh this week,” Bedros says.
“There, everyone has a house. They can somehow get by sitting at home. Now, if they come here [Armenia], and they all want to, there must be work and housing. If someone comes without money, how can they pay rent here and live if they don’t work. The government is doing nothing to help,” says Bedros.
On October 5, the Armenian foreign ministry’s Facebook page posted photos about the second humanitarian airlift (a Russian airplane) to Syria. The first airlift occurred on October 4. The post stated that Vardan Magaryan, the Armenian presidential chief of staff, and Ivan Volinkin, the Russian Ambassador to Armenia, were onboard the plane. There was a photo of them standing next to the plane.
Talking about this assistance, Bedros Kirazian stresses that the main objective is to get Armenians out of the war zone. He says if the plane is to return empty, couldn’t it bring a few families to Armenia.
Bedros says that people will come hopping on one leg, just as long as they are relocated somewhere safe. It doesn’t have to be Armenia, he says.
“A solution? The time has come for them to leave. It will only get worse. Every day there are two or three killed,” Bedros sighs.