Armenia’s Consul in LA: Status of Armenia in the Western U.S. has been elevated
A former UN relief worker in MidEast, Grigor Hovhannissian says exodus of Armenians from region likely
Published: Friday August 10, 2012
Armenia's Consul General in Los Angeles Grigor Hovhannissian was recently a subject of an anonymous complaint from a group of compatriots now living in the United States. This has prompted The Armenian Reporter's editor Emil Sanamyan to follow up with Mr. Hovhannissian on the charges made against him and other topics related to the Consulate's work.
Taking into account the current crisis in Syria and Mr. Hovhannissian's background in humanitarian work for the United Nations in the Middle East, The Reporter's questions also dealt with that subject. The questions were submitted and returned in writing. See The Reporter's earlier interview for Mr. Hovhannissian's professional background.
Emil Sanamyan for The Armenian Reporter: This issue that is not in your current area of responsibility but one in which you have considerable expertise: the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria and of Aleppo specifically. What kind of action should Armenia and Diaspora Armenian organizations undertake to help their compatriots?
Grigor Hovhannissian: I can only answer your question as an ex-practitioner who served in the region for several years. Therefore, this would be my personal opinion, not an official one.
Middle East is undergoing tectonic changes and this process takes a heavy toll on one of the largest clusters of the Armenian people and its oldest institutions - political and cultural. We are all seriously alarmed as the conflict unfolds in and around one of the last Armenian "strongholds" in the region- Aleppo. This being said, we should resist the temptation to become alarmists and not rush into precipitous conclusions particularly because our policy choices are fairly limited.
We must continue the world-wide Armenian debate about our Syrian compatriots' future-- something we did not do during and in the aftermath of the war in Iraq. We must maintain a long term perspective while being watchful and strongly concerned with the immediate short term security and wellbeing of our compatriots.
As far as humanitarian situation is concerned, as we speak, it is serious, but not yet dire. It would take a longer period, harsher sanctions and a more intense unrest and insurgency to bring this upper middle income country to a near collapse, when the economy as a whole and the population's individual coping mechanisms fail to meet increasing costs of war and destruction.
For now, we observe accelerated economic decline, massive loss of income, damage to infrastructure, particularly in the north and a significant population displacement both internally and internationally. It's unfortunate. We already hear reports of disruptions to the supply of basic commodities (e.g. long queues at Aleppo's bakeries), however this is mainly caused by urban warfare and insecurity.
For the purpose of crisis preparedness we should build on earlier experiences of the Arab Spring, however, the Syrian crisis is likely to follow the pattern of its own. My take is that all else equal, in the immediate short term, the Syrian army will maintain its grip over much of the country and gain the upper hand in Aleppo. I expect that Syrian Armenians, who have long developed their own coping strategies, would remain largely intact.
However, it is increasingly obvious that already in the mid to long run - say within the next couple of years, there may be a massive exodus of our compatriots from Syria, and, unfortunately, from the rest of the Middle East.
For now, we should focus on advocacy efforts - at all levels and with all stakeholders as to make sure that the interest and the physical security of our compatriots is factored in while making post-war plans. I do not believe that Armenia should induce an accelerated flight of compatriots to Armenia.
In an ideal world, a permanently stand by airlift capacity should be in place to reach out to our compatriots in various areas of their possible displacement (not just Aleppo international airport) under the worst case scenario.
AR: In your estimation do Armenian diplomats and organizations in Syria have the capacity to properly assess the humanitarian situation of the community in present circumstances?
GH: I do believe that we have adequate knowledge of the country and the community and hence all the tools to make accurate assessment. We have all heard that the Government of Armenia currently operates a plan that has three scenarios for possible development and, accordingly, an action plan for each of the plausible scenarios.
As far as "things turning bad" - in recent years in the region we have seen total incommunicado situations in Iraq at the height of insurrection and more recently in Libya. I do not expect similar difficulties in Syria. I also believe that our country will maintain a minimum diplomatic presence in Syria and will not evacuate even under more adverse circumstances and help the community and its organizations throughout the crisis.
AR: Currently the inflow from Syria to Armenia has been relatively small, estimated at several thousand people, but this flow could increase. How should Armenia go about seeking international assistance to make preparations now for the likelihood of additional displaced persons from Syria?
GH: The international community has all sorts of contingency plans in place for massive population displacement in and out of Syria. Specialized agencies would most probably anticipate and in a way guide the outflows towards Turkey and possibly Jordan. Lebanon, would be reluctant to receive large refugee groups from Syria, because of the country's size and willingness to contain the political and demographic implications the influx would entail (Lebanon already has a very serious refugee situation with Palestinians in the camps).