Strolling through the bustling streets of Yerevan, chances are a Syrian-Armenian business will grab your attention. “Every two blocks, you can find a Syrian-Armenian restaurant in Yerevan,” said Dzovag Soghomonian, the integration manager at Repat Armenia. With about fifty new Syrian-Armenian restaurants, cafés, and kiosks concentrated in the center of Yerevan, these enterprises are feeding the recent boom of the restaurant industry, making them a welcome addition to Armenia’s economy, society, and culinary attractions.
“They’re launching successful businesses at around five times the rate of the local population,” said Harvard Law student Hagop Toghramadjian, who received a Fulbright in 2018 to research the integration of Syrian-Armenian refugees in Yerevan. “It’s completely transformed the cultural feel of the city.”
Many of Syria’s third and fourth generation Armenians were forced to flee Syria after the onslaught of violence in 2011, escaping bloodshed almost a century after their ancestors. According to government and UN statistics, around 23,000 Syrian-Armenians arrived in Armenia during the conflict, 20,000 received citizenship and almost 15,000 remain in Armenia, ready to rebuild their lives.
While many entrepreneurs have founded small and medium businesses, one of the largest growing sectors have been the wave of restaurants. “They brought the Western Armenian and Arab cultures to Armenia, which has affected the economy of Armenia very positively,” Soghomonian observed. “They have elevated the skill of customer service that wasn’t in Armenia before, which has opened opportunities.”
In Aleppo, the Armenian community preserved their ancestral language and Armenian cuisine, making their transition into Armenia’s food sector a natural choice. Many families who had left behind restaurants in Aleppo re-opened their businesses in Yerevan, while others entered the field for the first time, prompted by strong demand for Western Armenian cuisine.
However, Syrian-Armenian entrepreneurs faced the challenge of starting their restaurants from scratch. “Although the community was famed and respected for their commercial acumen in Aleppo, operating 1,300 businesses in that city alone, they have had to adjust to new rules and regulations in Armenia,” said Levon Antonyan, department head of Armenian communities at the Office of the High Commission of Diaspora Affairs. “Many individuals didn’t understand the legal system in Armenia and struggled to grow their enterprises due to complicated export markets and tax laws,” noted Soghomonian. Despite the obstacles they faced, Syrian-Armenians are making a name for themselves in Armenia.
Banner photo by Davit Hakobyan