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