YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—At least 150 Iraqi Yazidis who have taken refuge in Turkey are ready to relocate to Armenia on a permanent basis, a leader of the Armenian Yazidi community said on Tuesday.
Boris Murazi, the head of the Yerevan-based Sanjar Union, said the community can provide them with accommodation and work in rural areas of Armenia mostly populated by fellow Yazidis. He urged the Armenian government to allow those refugees to enter the country.
Murazi spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) two days after returning from southeastern Turkey where he and other Sanjar Union activists visited Yazidi refugee camps and heard harrowing accounts of atrocities committed by Islamic State militants in Iraq. In his words, as many as 22,000 of his co-ethnics fled to Turkey after being displaced by the radical Sunni Islamists.
“We want to bring 150 of them to Armenia as they would feel much safer living among Christians,” said Murazi. “I contacted the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan. He said that it would be a long process and that we need to apply in writing. So we couldn’t bring anyone with us when we were in Turkey.”
The activist said the refugees could be easily resettled in Yazidi-populated villages across Armenia. “In the village of Mirak alone, the mayor has said he is ready to give 15 empty houses to [Yazidi refugees.] We have made it clear to the government that there would be no need [to] provide those people with accommodation and even food,” he stressed.
The Armenian government has so far reacted vaguely to this appeal, with Balayan saying only that none of the Iraqi Yazidis has formally applied for asylum yet. Asked what the authorities in Yerevan will do if they do receive such applications, the Foreign Ministry official said, “Again, we have received no formal applications.”
Iraqi nationals need visas in order to travel to Armenia and they can obtain them only at Armenian diplomatic missions in Iraq or neighboring states. On August 21, the government approved a set of measures designed to make it easier for Iraqis of Armenian descent to take refuge in their ancestral homeland or receive Armenian citizenship. But it stopped short of easing visa requirements for Iraqi Yazidis.
By contrast, the leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh expressed readiness earlier in August to grant asylum to the displaced Yazidis. A senior official in Stepanakert referred to Yazidis as “an integral part of the Armenian people.”
Murazi said the Armenian authorities should have no national security concerns regarding the influx of non-Armenian refugees. He said his organization has drawn up a list of the 150 or so Iraqi Yazidis willing to resettle in Armenia and can submit them to the authorities. “We undertake to bear responsibility for the would-be migrants,” added the activist.
The authorities have also faced calls from Armenian civic groups and individual activists to open Armenia’s borders to Iraqi Yazidis.
There are an estimated 40,000 Yazidis living in Armenia, making them the country’s largest ethnic and religious minority.