Armenia’s Defense Ministry dispatched 83 medics, de-mining experts and other military servicemen to Aleppo, Syria on Friday on what the ministry called a humanitarian mission to help locals in their efforts to de-mine civilian areas and provide medical assistance.
“The Armenian specialists will carry out humanitarian de-mining, de-mining training of the population and medical services provision activities in the areas of Aleppo that are free of military operations,” Armenia’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Artsrun Hovhannisyan said on Friday.
“The decision on providing professional humanitarian assistance by Armenia to the Syrian people has been made taking into account the current humanitarian crisis in Syria—especially in Aleppo—caused by the military operations, as well as [relevant] UN resolutions, written requests from Syria, as well as the presence of large Armenian community in Aleppo,” the spokesperson elaborated.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan defended the deployment. During a press conference with his Cypriot counterpart Savvas Angelides, who was visiting Armenia, Tonoyan assured that the mission adheres to the letter of the law. He also added that “necessary” engagement of the group in “hostilities” in Syria would also be carried out “in accordance with the letter of the law.”
Armenia’s latest mission to Syria has upset the United States with the State Department issuing a terse statement that was distributed to the press by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan on Wednesday.
“We recognize the desire of other nations to respond to the humanitarian situation in Syria, and we share the concerns about protecting religious minorities in the Middle East,” the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. “However, we do not support any engagement with Syrian military forces, whether that engagement is to provide assistance to civilians or is military in nature.”
“Nor do we support any cooperation between Armenia and Russia for this mission. Russia has partnered with the Assad regime to slaughter civilians and trigger a humanitarian catastrophe. Russia continues to protect the Assad regime and its atrocities on a global stage,” the statement added.
The mission was deployed to Syria at the same time Tonoyan was meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu, who thanked Armenia for the “humanitarian” assistance.
The deployment of military personnel to Syria has become a point of contention for the U.S. as it maneuvers relations with Russia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan hinted about the mission in September after meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Moscow. In October, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton discussed the issue with Armenia’s leadership when he visited Yerevan. He was given assurances that the mission would not have any combat components.
“We have no such plans,” Pashinyan told Parliament on Wednesday about the possibility of an Armenian combat mission being deployed to Syria.
The current Armenian mission to Syria—not the first—is taking place with the backdrop of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and concerns of an increased role by Moscow in the absence of American presence in Syria.
Ruben Arakelyan, the director of the Armenian Center For Humanitarian De-mining and Expertise said that providing Armenia’s assistance in that effort was discussed with the Syrian Embassy in Yerevan as far back as 2017.