- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 21, 2003 

Flight of Fear: As war begins, some from Iraq seek refuge in Armenia

As a week of anticipating war has culminated in yesterday's attacks on Baghdad, fearful residents have clogged Iraq's roads, mostly heading north.

Escape from Iraq offers few alternatives. Borders are closed to hostile neighbors Iran and Kuwait and getting to or living in Syria or Saudi Arabia is too expensive for common Iraqis.

Just about 300 miles north of Baghdad, the border of Armenia becomes an option for some, particularly those among the 20,000 or so Armenians believed living in Iraq.

Vahak Mesropyan, chairman of the Central Committee of the Administration of the Armenian Community in Iraq, says around 25 families arrived in Armenia in the last couple of months. On the other hand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yerevan issued only 31 tourist visas to Iraqi citizens in the period from January 1st to March 6th while the UNHCR office in Armenia is examining requests for refugee status from only three families.

Mesropyan himself took his wife, his daughter and his mother-in-law and left Baghdad for Yerevan two weeks ago, shortly after Vahak bought a house here.

The Mesropyan family took a car to Aleppo, Syria, then flew to Yerevan. Their journey from Baghdad cost about $1,100, but the family says safety is priceless when war is looming. Their move of household consisted of some clothes, bed sheets, towels.

Vahak says it was not an easy decision to leave the country he was born in, but feared the consequences of a possible war would bring much more pain to his family.

"Of course it was difficult for me to come here," he says, "I had to leave my job, my house, my friends but I hope our stay in Armenia will only be temporary."

Vahak's wife, Seta, who is now a pensioner but previously worked with the UNDP office in Baghdad, says she feels sad about what is happening in Iraq. She only prays for her friends and neighbors to survive any tensions.

"We're here and safe but we're there with heart and soul," she says.

The overall tone inside the Armenian community in Baghdad has been peaceful and calm the Mesropyans say. War has become too familiar for Iraqis of any ethnicity to panic unnecessarily.

Armenians in Iraq gathered for the opening of a new church in Baghdad last April.Many though, say the Mesropyans, have busied themselves gathering water and food supply and the Iraqi government still continues its humanitarian program, started in last July that provides the population with food and sanitary products.

"There is no panic but a lot of worry", says Vahak referring to his family's concern about who will form their country's next administration if the current one is removed. Showing appreciation for the Armenian Diaspora's good relations with the Iraqi government, Vahak hopes that war will not destroy any conditions that allowed the Armenians to keep their identity.

Most Armenians in Iraq are descendents of Genocide survivors who left Turkey around 1918. There are eight Armenian churches throughout Iraq, four of which are in Baghdad, where there are also two Armenian sports clubs and four cultural centers and numerous Armenian-owned businesses.

And when missiles land, they do not choose their mark according to ethnicity. Armenians are under risk and families such as the Mesropyans are the lucky ones.

"If the war starts now, there is no way for me and my family to go back," Vahak says.


Flight of Fear: As war begins, some from Iraq seek refuge in Armenia

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Border War: Kurds in Armenia watch fighting in Iraq with special interest

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Before the Bombs: Locals and foreigners gather in small war protest

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  Photo of the week
  Minor Protest
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Minor Protest

Members of "Mister and Miss Armenia", an organization that produces children's pageants and contests held a beauty protest outside the United States Embassy in Yerevan Thursday. The kids recently were in Iraq, and wanted to demonstrate their feelings to the US presence here.



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