After a Century, Syrian Refugees Return to Armenia

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After a Century, Syrian Refugees Return to Armenia

Credit Anush Babajanyan/4Plus

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Armenia is a small and largely homogenous country of just three million people, so when thousands of refugees fleeing Syria’s conflict began arriving a few years ago, their presence was impossible to ignore. According to Armenian officials, more than 22,000 Syrians have come to the former Soviet republic since the start of the conflict in 2011. By 2015, the United Nations refugee agency said Syrian refugees accounted for six of every 1,000 people in Armenia.

“You’d see new eateries opening up, new services in town, people dressing in a different way,” said an Armenian art curator, Anna Kamay. “The change was obvious.”

While many of these refugees had never set foot in Armenia before, the country is not entirely alien to them. A century ago their ancestors sought shelter in Syria after escaping the genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks.

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Shant Klzy Muradian, 21, came to Yerevan from Syria and found work in a club as a cook.Credit Anush Babajanyan/4Plus

Ms. Kamay had been living in Morocco when she returned to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, in 2015 and was quickly captivated by the stories of Syrian Armenians she met in her neighborhood and through volunteer work with the nonprofit Armenian Redwood Project. Last year, she teamed up with an Armenian freelance photographer, Anush Babajanyan, to share those narratives with the world.

“We’ve made an effort to document all kinds of stories, to show all the different faces of this community,” Ms. Kamay said.

Like their new neighbors, Syria’s Armenian refugees are Christians and speak Armenian, albeit a dialect particular to the diaspora. While cultural integration has had its bumps, Ms. Kamay said, they have been made to feel “more or less welcome here” by the public….

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