Interviews with Syrian newcomers in Armenia's regions. Part One: Ashtarak

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Interviews with Syrian newcomers in Armenia's regions. Part One: Ashtarak

During the devastating conflict in Syria where half of the country’s pre-war population has either been injured, killed or displaced, over 20 000 refugees found shelter in Armenia, some of which left soon after they arrived seeing no future in the country. But the majority stayed, and while most of them have ended up in Yerevan, some newcomers have settled outside Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

We spoke with some of the newcomers who fled the civil war in their home country to make a new life in Armenia, but unlike the majority, these newcomers become successful entrepreneurs outside Yerevan.

 

Talar Zakarian(from Kamisli, Syria) and Hovik Aroyan(from Tartous, Syria) in their home in Ashtarak. Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP, 2017.

Talar Zakarian(from Kamisli, Syria) and Hovik Aroyan(from Tartous, Syria) in their home in Ashtarak.

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP, 2017.

Talar (24) came to Armenia from Kamisli in October 2012 and settled in Proshyan village near the capital as the conflict in Syria escalated and it was no longer safe to go back. In 2016 she met her fiance Hovik(25) from Tartous, Syria, they fell in love and got engaged shortly after. Hovik’s parents met and got married during their studies in Armenia and Hovik was born in Yerevan. They moved back to Syria after graduation. Hovik was 13 when they immigrated to Canada where they lived for 10 years before repatriating to Armenia in 2015.

 

In Armenia the Aroyans fell in love with Ashtarak from the first sight and decided to settle there. The second floor of the house where the family run restaurant is located is also their home. It is a old building from the 19th century full of history. The house used to belong to a well-known priest, then it became a makeshift hospital during the second World War, a winery and eventually a military hub during the post-soviet years and was abandoned for 20 years before the Aroyans purchased it.

Talar Zakarian(from Kamisli, Syria) and Hovik Aroyan(from Tartous, Syria) standing in the balcony of “Old Ashtarak” restaurant, the building is also their home Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP, 2017.

Talar Zakarian(from Kamisli, Syria) and Hovik Aroyan(from Tartous, Syria) standing in the balcony of “Old Ashtarak” restaurant, the building is also their home

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP, 2017.

Talar and Hovik plan to get married soon. They intend to live and work in Ashtarak as that is where the family business, "Old Ashtarak" restaurant is located. Hovik also plans to continue his studies in the AUA and lead his family business simultaneously.

Our social correspondent caught up with the family in Ashtarak.  Here's their encounter:

Do you want to go back to Syria?

Hovik: No, I prefer to stay here, in Armenia. Both in Syria and Canada I felt like a stranger but here in Armenia I felt I am home immediately: everyone speaks Armenian, everyone is Armenian. From my childhood I always had Armenia on my mind and wanted to repatriate.

 

Hovik Aroyan with his pet dog Sujukh. He found the puppy on a rainy day  and took him home back in 2015, and they are best friends ever since. Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP

Hovik Aroyan with his pet dog Sujukh. He found the puppy on a rainy day  and took him home back in 2015, and they are best friends ever since.

Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP

What do you miss most about Syria?

Hovik: My friends, my memories in the streets of Tartous...most of whom are now scattered around the world, so it will never be the same even if I go back. I was back a year ago and it was all different.

What do you like most about Ashtarak?

Talar: The simplicity of people, the architecture, the security, we are free to go out at any time, there is no danger here.   

 

Hovik Aroyan’s parents in the kitchen of their restaurant. Sevan Haboyan and Habib Aroyan. While Sevan is the chef, Habib takes care of the logistics and bbqs. Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenia Redwood Project, 2017

Hovik Aroyan’s parents in the kitchen of their restaurant. Sevan Haboyan and Habib Aroyan. While Sevan is the chef, Habib takes care of the logistics and bbqs.

Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenia Redwood Project, 2017

  What are the most favourite dishes at “Old Ashtarak” for the locals?

Sevan: Toshka and fattouch seem to be the favourites. They start getting used to our kebab too. The local kebab is served with diced onions and parsley, and it is “swollen”(thick) because of some ingredients they add here, and locals used to complain that our kebab is too “thin”. We used to tell our customers, our kebab is made of pure meat that is why it is not so thick.  Now customers start to get used to it. Another specialty we serve here is kebab with aubergines, and locals are not used to it at all.

 

Dinner party at Old Ashtarak restaurant

Dinner party at Old Ashtarak restaurant

Which ingredients was hard for you to find here?

Sevan: Shanklish is a kind of cheese that we can not find here, so we started making our own, it’s used in salads mostly. I called my friends in Syria, got the receipt and started making my own. Same with zaatar. Here I also learnt to cook the local specialties like stolichny salad, khashlama, I never knew about avelouk salad, but some customers asked for it and now we make it too and they like it a lot. I make everything fresh and do not prepare anything in advance.

 

Homemade mazzeh assortment. Old Ashtarak restaurant

Homemade mazzeh assortment. Old Ashtarak restaurant

When did you come to Armenia?

Sevan: Me and my husband got our PHd  degrees here in Armenia and I gave birth to my son Hovik in 1991 here, then we went back to Syria in the hope to continue our studies but then the times were hard here and we immigrated to Canada. The good thing is that now we are back in Armenia and our repatriation has been very purposeful: my son Hovik met his love, Talar here and they got engaged. Now we are here to stay.

What do you like most in Armenia?

Sevan: I like that here in Armenia we are all Armenian  and nobody can tell me I do  not belong here or that I should go back to my country. And even if a war starts in Armenia I won’t think of leaving this place because it’s our home now. I do not want to be a second class citizen, I am an Armenian and nobody can send me away from here.

Here in Armenia we do not have the issue of preserving our Armenian identity, our language. If we stayed in Canada, my children would have forgotten Armenian, here we do not have to worry about that. And here my grandchildren will attend Armenian school and speak Armenian.

Talar and Hovik in the terrace of Old Ashtarak restaurant Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP, 2017.

Talar and Hovik in the terrace of Old Ashtarak restaurant

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP, 2017.

What do you miss most in Syria?

Sevan: I miss the warmth, the abundance of the peaceful years in Syria. We were wealthy there, the majority of Armenians were middle class or even higher, here’s it’s more difficult. But it’s difficult everywhere wherever you go. There is poverty in Armenia, I would like local people to be able to afford coming to our restaurant even for a cup of coffee. If the community is doing well, our business will be doing well too. Now we reply a lot on tourists, which is seasonal. Locals know us and encourage us, people tell each other about us and our restaurant and they come visit us a lot.

 

The ARP was one of the few organizations that has attempted to pilot the integration of Syrian refugees in regions of Armenia outside the capital city of Yerevan where life was more affordable and entrepreneurship opportunities more abundant. We have consistently advocated for a comprehensive country integration plan from the Government of Armenia (see here).  We are thrilled to see so many Syrian refugees find Armenia to be safe enough to call it "home" and start new lives again(see Economist June 26 2017 post here). 

Armenia, the young state of an old nation, seems to continue attracting both tourists and refugees.

Classic Soviet ARMENIA Intourist vintage poster by Sergey Igumnov, is believed to have been commissioned in 1936.  Intourist rightfully understood that the prevailing European artistic trend of Art Deco design would be more appealing to potential tourists than Social Realism. "The image of Soviet Armenia communicated here is a glamorous and varied one. The train and the car in the foreground boast the advanced modern machinery of the period, and the high railway bridge is an example of Soviet engineering skills. The beauty of the country's natural landscape is shown in the background. The poster creates an image of glamorous tourism, and is similar to travel posters produced in western Europe at the time" (Victoria & Albert Museum, vam.ac.uk). This is the English version. Intourist pl. 29 (var), Tourism p. 113, Crouse p. 303 (var), Affiches Art Deco p. 111.

Classic Soviet ARMENIA Intourist vintage poster by Sergey Igumnov, is believed to have been commissioned in 1936.  Intourist rightfully understood that the prevailing European artistic trend of Art Deco design would be more appealing to potential tourists than Social Realism. "The image of Soviet Armenia communicated here is a glamorous and varied one. The train and the car in the foreground boast the advanced modern machinery of the period, and the high railway bridge is an example of Soviet engineering skills. The beauty of the country's natural landscape is shown in the background. The poster creates an image of glamorous tourism, and is similar to travel posters produced in western Europe at the time" (Victoria & Albert Museum, vam.ac.uk). This is the English version. Intourist pl. 29 (var), Tourism p. 113, Crouse p. 303 (var), Affiches Art Deco p. 111.

 

 

About the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)

www.armenianredwoodproject.org

Founded in 2014 and pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation, ARP is a defacto action oriented think tank & a non-profit social enterprise alliance among Diasporan Armenian philanthropists , NGOs & International aid organizations aimed at complementing the efforts of the Government of Armenia in improving the lives of Syrian refugees that have taken refuge in Armenia through affordable housing. The effort included contributions from donors like the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Jinishian Foundation, the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, Denmark’s Mission East Armenia Branch, The Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF), along with the project’s in-country partner Oxfam Armenia. Individual donors included Philantropists Gerald Turpanjian, Carolyn Mugar, Zaven Akian & Adam Kablanian.

ARP has been acting on its values in Armenia through its operating partners in Armenia, Oxfam and Mission East. As a humanitarian actor & a host country, Armenia is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the ratio of welcomed migrants to its number of native inhabitants. Hundreds of Syrian refugee households in Armenia have not faced homelessness thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of the Diaspora, UNHCR and consortiums like the Armenian Redwood Project.

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We Expect a "Wir Schaffen Das" from PM Karapetyan on the Integration Strategy for Syrian Refugees in Armenia

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We Expect a "Wir Schaffen Das" from PM Karapetyan on the Integration Strategy for Syrian Refugees in Armenia

After its initial phase (2011-2016) Armenia is moving away from its humanitarian measures and into a development phase with a 2018-2020 National Response Plan.  Very soon Armenia's National Integration Strategy and the Country Response Plan will be published. This is a document aimed at resolving the issues of Syrian refugees in Armenia. For it to turn into real action, it will soon require Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan's full support.

Just over a year since the last Syrian Refugee Summit held in Yerevan in February of 2016, the "secretariat for refugee integration" was form.  This effort was housed within the Ministry of the Diaspora & funded in part by the Gulbenkian Foundation (kudos to Dr. Razmik Panossian, Director of the Armenian Communities Department @ Gulbenkian). The team concluded its draft plan and is shifting the focus into Armenia's Country Response plan to integrating refugees. This is something we & many of our partners have long advocated for.  This is a commendable effort by the staff headed by Ms. Narine Karinyan and under the leadership of Minister of Diaspora,  Madam Hranush Hakobyan. We also found the inclusiveness of the process to be praiseworthy as well.  The staff reached out for input to NGOs and donors and solicited input while listening.  This framework is also a golden opportunity for Armenian NGOs to learn how to collaborate. All in all, despite delays, it was a comprehensive effort.

The Integration Plan addresses key priority intervention areas including housing, healthcare, education and economic integration and lists policy and action interventions in each context.  The Plan offers suggestions for various provisions and seems to offer the policy choices.

From a "National Response" and capacity point of view, we view this Integration Plan the first institutional framework that attempts at coordinating fragmented efforts of the past few years.  And while we were frustrated at how long it took to develop, we remain excited as it marks an important milestone in the young republic's learning curve in an area that has challenged many advanced economies. Please note that Armenia is one of the world's leading countries in terms of the ratio of welcomed migrants to its number of native inhabitants.

Syrian refugee Khachig Charshafian in Dilijan where he and his family were settled during ARP's regional pilot integration project.  Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP, 2017.

Syrian refugee Khachig Charshafian in Dilijan where he and his family were settled during ARP's regional pilot integration project. 

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP, 2017.

 

like we have said before, Armenia -For Some Syrian Armenian Refugees- Could Be A Better Alternative Than The Blind Flight West

Armenia's next challenge beyond welcoming refugees will be to actually integrate them. Historically, Armenia's track record on integration is at best mixed. This ranges from the 1946-48 migration (nergaght) all the way to the recent refugee influx from Azerbaijan in the early 1990s.  The plethora of academic and policy prescriptions on integration demonstrates that there are few absolute answers. In our experience,  we feel that beyond publishing guiding documents, "political will"  that drives practical outcomes in the lives of refugees can be useful.  This is why Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan's leadership in this mater is very important. An effective Integration Plan is truly a multi agency initiative and will go far beyond the jurisdictions of the Ministry of the Diaspora.  It will also require public finances and other commitments that only a Prime Minister can make.

Multi generational Syrian refugee family in Gumri, Armenia Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenia Redwood Project, 2017

Multi generational Syrian refugee family in Gumri, Armenia

Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenia Redwood Project, 2017

 

The upcoming Integration phase will not only deal with the challenges of finding basic, decent housing for refugees, but will tackle the bigger issues of how to help refugees rebuild new lives, find their place in Armenia and participate productively in Armenian society. 

Syrian refugees integrating well in Armenia's public schools in Gumri. Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP

Syrian refugees integrating well in Armenia's public schools in Gumri.

Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP

 

In our conversations with dozens of Syrian refugees in Armenia, we have noted that they want what most of us want in life: to feel safe, to be treated fairly under the law, to work, to be surrounded by their loved ones and to see a better future for their children.

Many Syrian refugees like Vartoug ( airlifted from the embattled town of Kobani Syria with her extended family by the ARP) have benefited from Armenia's multifaceted assistance to refugees, including education. Photo credit: Zaven Khatchikyan on assignment for the ARP

Many Syrian refugees like Vartoug ( airlifted from the embattled town of Kobani Syria with her extended family by the ARP) have benefited from Armenia's multifaceted assistance to refugees, including education.

Photo credit: Zaven Khatchikyan on assignment for the ARP

 

 

After seeing the anti-refugee mood in the West, many of the refugees seeking refuge in Armenia seem ready to settle with proper assistance. In the case of Armenia however, much of the what refugees require is also needed by 30% of Armenia's population that lives under poverty.  We understand the challenge faced by the Prime Minister in terms of allocating resources.  However, If the Prime Minister can work collectively with the Diaspora and international donors to provide key building blocks for a better life to refugees (and why not some of the local population), we feel he will turn a humanitarian crisis into an opportunity for Armenia.

Syrian refugees are a diverse source of human capital to Armenia.  Their presence is already being felt in Yerevan and beyond.

Bedig, another refugee from Syria working in a restaurant in Gumri, Armenia Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP

Bedig, another refugee from Syria working in a restaurant in Gumri, Armenia

Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the ARP

 

We hope PM Karapetyan's response will be similar to PM Angela Merkel's : "Wir schaffen das" ( translation: We Will Do It ). We have every confidence that he will do so, even in these difficult times.

 

About the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)

www.armenianredwoodproject.org

Founded in 2014 and pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation, ARP is a defacto action oriented think tank & a non-profit social enterprise alliance among Diasporan Armenian philanthropists , NGOs & International aid organizations aimed at complementing the efforts of the Government of Armenia in improving the lives of Syrian refugees that have taken refuge in Armenia through affordable housing. The effort included contributions from donors like the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Jinishian Foundation, the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, Denmark’s Mission East Armenia Branch, The Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF), along with the project’s in-country partner Oxfam Armenia. Individual donors included Philantropists Gerald Turpanjian, Carolyn Mugar, Zaven Akian & Adam Kablanian.

ARP has been acting on its values in Armenia through its operating partners in Armenia, Oxfam and Mission East. As a humanitarian actor & a host country, Armenia is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the ratio of welcomed migrants to its number of native inhabitants. Hundreds of Syrian refugee households in Armenia have not faced homelessness thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of the Diaspora, UNHCR and consortiums like the Armenian Redwood Project.

 

 

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Let us Share the Miracle of Christmas

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Let us Share the Miracle of Christmas

They lost everything they had worked for. They lost homes, businesses, and the storied neighborhoods in which they had grown up, the neighborhoods where they had built lives within the warmth of family, friends, and colleagues. Most tragically, they lost loved ones.

Syrian Refugees in Yerevan - Photo credit Anush Babajanyan on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

Syrian Refugees in Yerevan - Photo credit Anush Babajanyan on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

 

Descendants of Genocide survivors, they relived many of the horrors experienced by their grandparents and parents, as they were subjected to the renewed savagery of religious and political extremism.

Armenian refugee shacks in Aleppo circa 1920 - AGBU (Courtesy photo)

Armenian refugee shacks in Aleppo circa 1920 - AGBU (Courtesy photo)

 

And many became double refugees. After having fled to the safety of Syria years ago, they now had to escape the Syrian civil war, enduring the indignities of migration, poverty, and homelessness. Ironically, some ended up in refugee camps in Turkey. Others managed to move on, in desperate search of a light at the end of the tunnel that was the Syrian cataclysm.

Syrian Refugees housing in Yerevan - Photo credit Anush Babajanyan on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

Syrian Refugees housing in Yerevan - Photo credit Anush Babajanyan on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

 

For thousands of Syrian-Armenian refugees, that light at the end of the tunnel — or at least its promise — has come in the form of finding sanctuary in the Republic of Armenia. Moreover, what has been an ongoing and luminous phenomenon since 2010 is that, despite the immeasurable losses they have sustained, Syrian-Armenians arriving in Armenia lost absolutely no time to assume the gargantuan task of rebuilding their lives, one step at a time. All they needed, all they could ask for, was a little helping hand, extended to them with a little measure of moral support.

Syrian refugees in Armenia celebrating the holidays.  Photo credit Eric Grigorian on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

Syrian refugees in Armenia celebrating the holidays.  Photo credit Eric Grigorian on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

The story of the Syrian-Armenian tragedy is still being written, its harrowing particulars still being gauged. But there’s no doubt that the miracle of the rebirth of the Syrian-Armenian community in Armenia is something the entire Armenian nation must take pride in — and give it everything it’s got to further energize it and see it thrive.

Syrian refugee children in Armenia's public schools.  Photo credit Zaven Khatchikian

Syrian refugee children in Armenia's public schools.  Photo credit Zaven Khatchikian

The Armenian Redwood Project has been there since day one, determined to nurture that miracle at every step of the way. By raising worldwide public awareness of the plight of the refugees; by working toward a pan-Armenian alliance for meaningful and robust support; and by providing refugee families with urgently needed housing and social assistance, we strive not just to help Syrian-Armenians in Armenia get back on their feet, but give them back perhaps the most precious of survival tools: their dignity.

Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit: James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

 

This year, thousands of Syrian-Armenian families in Armenia will gather around the Christmas table — to remember those who were taken away from them, to celebrate the gift of human fortitude, and even as an act of defiance. As for the rest of us, let us rediscover the spirit of giving in Christmas; let us give our Syrian-Armenian sisters and brothers the unflinching reassurance that they’re not alone in their struggle.

About the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)

www.armenianredwoodproject.org

Founded in 2014 and pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation, ARP is a defacto action oriented think tank & a non-profit social enterprise alliance among Diasporan Armenian philanthropists , NGOs & International aid organizations aimed at complementing the efforts of the Government of Armenia in improving the lives of Syrian refugees that have taken refuge in Armenia through affordable housing. As a humanitarian actor & a host country, Armenia is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the ratio of welcomed migrants to its number of native inhabitants. Hundreds of Syrian refugee households in Armenia have not faced homelessness thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of the Diaspora, UNHCR and NGOs like the Armenian Redwood Project.

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Its time for a Refugee Integration Country Plan in Armenia

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Its time for a Refugee Integration Country Plan in Armenia

Armenia has been an exemplary global citizen in its humanitarian responseto take in Syrian refugees as a regional host country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. According to the Government of Armenia (GoA), over 20,000 Syrian-Armenian refugees have sought refuge in Armenia since 2011.  According to a published study by the European Friends of Armenia, Armenia hosted six Syrian refugees per 1,000 nationals—a ratio much higher than many European countries or the US, especially noteworthy given the country’s economic circumstance.

The Government of Armenia, along with international organizations operating in Armenia and certain Diasporan Armenian groups have invested serious efforts to confront challenges in the last 6 years. Compared to earlier waves of refugees that Armenia faced (i.e. hundreds of thousands of refugees from the conflict with Azerbaijan in the early 90s or hundreds of refugees resulting from the Iraq war), Armenia seemed to have been better organized this time around. But Armenians can still do better and more to assist refugees.

With no end in sight to the raging war, new refugees continue to arrive from Syria on a weekly basis to Armenia.  The new refugees seem poorer and more traumatized than the earlier waves that sought refuge 2-3 years ago.

RUBEN VARDANYAN AND VERONIKA ZONABEND

RUBEN VARDANYAN AND VERONIKA ZONABEND

 

Armenian society seem to be showing continued commitment and moral courage towards the largest humanitarian crisis of our times.  Just last week, the IDeA foundation, headed by Forbes listed billionaire Ruben Vardanyan announced that they will be generouslycontributing funds to join efforts to assist the plight of Syrian Armenian refugees. This week, President  Sargsyan in a meeting with Syrian Armenian leaders in Yerevan reaffirmed Armenia's commitment to continue accepting and helping Syrian refugees. 

Accepting refugees is only part of the solution. While the international community must come together to end the violence in Syria, Armenia needs to show leadership in the next phase of its efforts: execution towards a Country Plan to integrate Syrian refugees in the next 18-24 months.  This should include a multi-year, multi-faceted plan, with a clear division of work between public and private institutions.  Additionally, refugees are not one country’s or one continent’s problem; they are everyone’s problem in today's interconnected world. The international community, including the EU, US and the CIS need to assist Armenia as a regional host country during these challenging times. 

A scene from the Refugee Summit in Yerevan, February 2016 (Photo credit AGBU Yerevan)

A scene from the Refugee Summit in Yerevan, February 2016 (Photo credit AGBU Yerevan)

Last February, under the brave leadership of Razmik Panossian from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the AGBU and Christoph Bierworth from the UNHCR, a strategy summit was hosted at the headquarters of the AGBU in Yerevan to address the challenges Armenia faced in integrating refugees.  One of the key conclusions of the summit was the urgent need to draft a coordinated plan for the post humanitarian phase of the crisis. 

We have recently learned with pleasure, about plans by the Government of Armenia (GoA) to embark on an effort to formulate a comprehensive strategy to address the different dimensions of the integration of Syrian refugees displaced from Syria in Armenia.  While we have relentlessly been demanding a COUNTRY PLAN for quite some time, we nevertheless welcome this effort and remain Cautiously Optimistic.

The Armenian Redwood Project has long been advocating thought leadership & collaboration among various actors when dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis.  It has been disappointing - to say the least-  not to see the type of timely leadership that AGBU's leaders (see historian Raymond Kevorkian webtalk here) and the heroes of the Near East Relief ( see our blog post here ) showed earlier in the 20th century during the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide. The good news though is that its not too late to still make a difference in the lives of thousands of refugees and help them rebuild. 

The Armenian Redwood Project looks forward to the collaboration of various stakeholders towards a comprehensive COUNTRY PLAN in Armenia to address the next phase of integrating Syrian refugees.  We have continuously stated that silo Initiatives by various agencies after 5 years of war are sub-optimal.  We need Armenian Organizations to collaboratively cooperate around a COUNTRY PLAN in order to deliver Institutional quality outcomes to refugees and make a difference.  We are hopeful that once a plan is finalized soon, professional division of labor can be established between the GoA, specialized NGOs and International agencies and other stakeholders to execute in the next 2 years.

A comprehensive integration plan should most importantly address the need for affordable housing, economic inclusion and effective social services for refugees. Such an initiative, if executed well should also result in immense benefits for Armenia itself in the form of fresh/diverse human capital and modern social institutional capacity. 

We want to end this blog post by providing perspective by pointing to a visual guide to refugee crises around the world recently published by the Washington Post.  This should not be a surprise to Armenians who have themselves endured various migration waves throughout their turbulent history.   Contemplating the continued unfolding of this global refugee crisis, we revert to our appeal made late in 2015 to collective Armenian leadership to continue to act on our moral contract as a refugee nation.

"We appeal to Armenian leadership across geographies in the hope that we can persuade them, and others through them, that it is time to prioritize addressing this crisis now and work through a unified matter. The Armenians remaining trapped in Syria, then also the Armenians trapped as refugees, need the Diaspora and the homeland, and the Spyurk & Haiastan need to help them. If they do so successfully, our people will help themselves – morally and existentially, and both the homeland and the Diaspora will be better able to see themselves as active agents of their own fate. If they fail, they will have failed not only our kin in need, but ourselves as a nation" - the Armenian Redwood Project, December 2015.

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

 

 

About the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)

www.armenianredwoodproject.org

Founded in 2014 and pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation, ARP is a defacto action oriented think tanks & a non-profit social enterprise alliance among Diasporan Armenian philanthropists and organizations & International aid organizations aimed at complementing the efforts of the Government of Armenia in improving the lives of Syrian refugees that have taken refuge in Armenia. As a humanitarian actor & a host country, Armenia is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the ratio of welcomed migrants to its number of native inhabitants.

 

 

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Integrating Refugees Through Professional Institution Building in Armenia

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Integrating Refugees Through Professional Institution Building in Armenia

The Armenian Redwood Project through its partners in Armenia (Oxfam and Mission East) has launched the first cadre of social workers professionally trained to solely help Syrian refugees in Armenia

While the Syrian war continues escalating in 2016, NGOs in Armenia are moving beyond traditional humanitarian means and into helping refugees build new lives and integrate in the Republic of Armenia. This week, a new cadre of social workers hired by Oxfam & Mission East in Yerevan to service Syrian refugees has received specialized training to better cope with the complex needs of Syrian refugees.

The dedicated social service program is part of a more comprehensive rent subsidy assistance program to qualified Syrian refugees that have taken refuge in Armenia and the result of a commitment that the Armenian Redwood Project has assumed on itself in the aftermath of the Syrian Refugee Summit organized by UNHCR in Armenia in February 2016.  The cadre of social workers also includes guest representatives from the public sector & social workers from the Armenian Relief Society of Armenia.

According to the Government of Armenia (GoA), over 20,000 Syrian-Armenian refugees have sought refuge in Armenia since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. Adequately addressing the affordable housing crisis of refugees seems to be beyond the means of the GoA or any one organization alone. As such, ARP was established as a collaborative platform with to help provide refugees with vital humanitarian assistance. Functioning in part as an alliance between diaspora benefactors and foundations and in part as an international aid agency partner, ARP’s consortium aims to help Syrian-Armenian families in Armenia secure and maintain means to rebuild lives and integrate into Armenia's society.

Earlier in 2016, a group of social workers were competitively selected from among a large cohort of applicants by Oxfam and Mission East and a professional training program developed to further refine their skills. " Coaching and consultation sessions will follow the training and on the job training for these social workers. This will be provided by different specialist based on the Problems and Needs arising during actual work in process" said Dr. Yuliana Melkumyan who specializes in delivering social worker training.

Beneficiary of the Rent Subsidy Program in Armenia. Photo credit: James Aram Elliot

Beneficiary of the Rent Subsidy Program in Armenia. Photo credit: James Aram Elliot

Besides providing essential services to Syrian refugees in Armenia through house visits and office consultations, the social workers will also be performing important monitoring, evaluation and data collection efforts.   The training sessions will also include components of Armenia's state benefit system, delivered by a representative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Issues.  As a host country, Armenia has been absolutely exemplary in terms of the ratio of welcomed Syrian-Armenian refugees to the number of native inhabitants.

Institution building and new capacity building to facilitate integration of Syrian refugees in Armenia is part of the scope of what the Armenian Redwood Project has planned for its 2016 program with its operational partners and donors. 

" We have been functioning like an action-oriented think tank when it comes to the cause of refugees in Armenia.  We wanted the experience of the Syrians to be different than the ones that arrived previously from Baku in the 90s and the refugees from Iraq not too long ago.

silo Initiatives After 5 years of War are sub-Optimal.  We need Armenian Organizations to Cooperate Around Collaborative Platforms in Order to deliver Institutional Quality Outcomes to Refugees " said Raffy Ardhaldjian, Chief Action Officer of the Armenian Redwood Project.

" Along with UNHCR, our collaborative consortium is supporting hundreds of refugee beneficiary households through rent subsidies and now, with specialized social services, a field that is not adequately developed in Armenia. I'm looking forward to advocating the importance of such institution building with colleagues at the Ministry of Labour and Social Issues of Armenia upon my next visit to Yerevan" continued Ardhaldjian.

Refugee Housing Working Group at the Gulbenkian/UNHCR organized Refugee Summit in Yerevan. Photo credit AGBU Yerevan.

 

On the job training will continue with the new cadre of Social Workers with the hopes of building a specialized institutional capacity to help Syrian Refugees, As Armenia switches from the earlier humanitarian response to the crisis to new development policies.  The integration of refugees into Armenian Society will require more elaborate institutions and policies.  The training of the new cadres of social workers is a step in that direction as the war in Syria enters its 6th year.

The new cadre of social workers during their training in Yerevan Armenia, October 2016. Photo credit Oxfam Armenia

The new cadre of social workers during their training in Yerevan Armenia, October 2016. Photo credit Oxfam Armenia

The Armenian Redwood Project once again, thanks all of its generous donors and operating partners in Armenia and its various stakeholders without whom none of these outcomes would have been possible.  The 2016 Program donors include philanthropists Gerald Turpanjian, Carolyn Mugar, and Zaven Akian, in addition to the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Jinishian Memorial Foundation, the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, The Ani and Narod Memorial Foundation, Denmark’s Mission East Armenia Branch, and The Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF), along with the project’s in-country partner Oxfam Armenia.
 

About the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)

www.armenianredwoodproject.org

Founded in 2014 and pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation, ARP is a non-profit social enterprise alliance among Diasporan Armenian philanthropists and organizations & International aid organizations aimed at complementing the efforts of the Government of Armenia in improving the lives of Syrian refugees that have taken refuge in Armenia. As a humanitarian actor & a host country, Armenia is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the ratio of welcomed migrants to its number of native inhabitants.

 

Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working in approximately 94 countries worldwide to find solutions to poverty and what it considers to be injustice around the world. Oxfam is committed to providing humanitarian aid to those in need during times of conflict. Oxfam is providing aid and long­term support to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the crisis in Syria, one of the organization’s priorities. Oxfam has already reached over 1 million people both inside Syria and in neighboring countries affected by the crisis.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

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Syrian Flavors in Yerevan (Part II)

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Syrian Flavors in Yerevan (Part II)

Among the thousands of Syrian refugees who fled the ravaging civil war in Syria, many are finding hope and opportunity for a new life in their homeland of Armenia. The Baharians who run the famous Zatar Pizza in Yerevan are one of them.

Antranik and Haigan. Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Antranik and Haigan. Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Since it opened its doors in late 2012, Zatar Pizza has made a name for itself both among Yerevan locals and visitors from abroad. Located just a few steps away from the Republic Square in downtown Yerevan, Zatar Pizza serves Syrian and other Levantine favorites. Zatar Pizza was one of the first restaurants to introduce zatar, a classic Levantine spice mix of dried thyme and other herbs, to the Yerevan food scene.

Zaa'tar

Zaa'tar

Lusine Mkhmelian-Baharian, her daughter Haigan, and her nephew Antranik have been with Zatar Pizza since its start. Lusine and her children came to Armenia in October 2012 and opened Zatar Pizza a short two months later. The restaurant is owned by Lusine’s brother-in-law and  his business partner , but it was Lusine who got the business running the first two months after opening—with her own recipes and spices. She cooks everything the way she would at home, using the exact same flavors and ingredients.

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

They used to bring the zatar from Syria but as the war worsened, transport became more challenging, so Lusine began to make zatar herself. Now their zatar is famous among locals for its authentic flavor and high quality.

Currently Lusine’s son works in the kitchen, and her daughter Haigan serves the customers with the help of her sister-in-law’s two sons, Anto and Nshan.

“In summertime lots of tourists come; many of them are familiar with our specialties and seem to really like them. Everything is homemade here. We were the first here in Yerevan, and to this day we strive to keep it.” says Lusine.

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

The first few months in Armenia were challenging for the Baharians. They had no friends or acquaintances and did not understand the local dialect but with some patience and a little time, they began to cherish Armenia as their new home. “We like Armenia. Problems exist here, but Armenia is taking care of us.” says Haigan. “Thank God now we are back on our feet and we are able to earn our living.”

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

The Baharians say that they are happy that they opened the restaurant and decided to stay in their homeland. They have great relations with their customers. At Zatar Pizza the customers come from Australia, France, England, America, and they are all still in touch with them to this day. They have become a sort of family and they throw them farewell gatherings when they leave. They also stay in touch with one another; they become friends on Facebook and talk on the phone frequently. These are the sorts of memories they make here.

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Many ethnic Syrian Armenians have had long ties with the republic of Armenia over the last half century through various waves of repatriation and student exchanges.  This last wave of forced migration due to the war in Syria has last almost 5 years.  While some of the Syrian refugees that sought temporary refuge since 2012 in Armenia have now decided to turn into "economic migrants" and emigrate again, many like the Baharians are looking to integrate and build new lives in their historic homeland: Armenia. 

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

After the February 2016 workshop organized by the UNHCR, Ministry of the Diaspora, Gulbenkian Foundation, and the AGBU on durable solutions for Syrian refugees in Yerevan, The Armenian Redwood Project will be gradually switching its focus towards helping refugee families like the Baharians better integrate in Armenia.

Photo credit James Aram Elliott

Photo credit James Aram Elliott

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Consortium of diaspora donors pledges $350,000 to match UNHCR’s 2016 funding for Syrian Refugee rental-subsidy program in Armenia

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Consortium of diaspora donors pledges $350,000 to match UNHCR’s 2016 funding for Syrian Refugee rental-subsidy program in Armenia

Los Angeles, California, March 15, 2016 – At a major donor conference in Yerevan, the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP) announced that a broad coalition of diaspora philanthropists and organizations had pledged up to $350,000 to significantly augment the emergency housing-assistance program in Armenia for Syrian-Armenian refugees. These funds will be essential in continuing the program—initiated by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)—in 2016.

 

Donors include philanthropists Gerald Turpanjian, Carolyn Mugar, and Zaven Akian, in addition to the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Jinishian Memorial Foundation, the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, The Ani and Narod Memorial Foundation, Denmark’s Mission East Armenia Branch, and The Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF), along with the project’s in-country partner Oxfam Armenia.

 

According to the Government of Armenia (GoA), over 20,000 Syrian-Armenian refugees have sought refuge in Armenia, where many are still struggling to rebuild lives with limited support. Adequately addressing the housing crisis of refugees seems to be beyond the means of the GoA or any one organization alone. As such, ARP was established as a collaborative platform to help provide refugees with vital humanitarian assistance. Functioning in part as an alliance between diaspora benefactors and foundations and in part as international aid agency partner, ARP’s consortium’s new pledge aims to help Syrian-Armenian families in Armenia secure and maintain affordable housing in the form of rent subsidies.

 

“Affordable housing has emerged through the process of identifying what we want to accomplish for our brothers and sisters who have taken refuge in Armenia,” said Raffy Ardhaldjian, Chief Action Officer of ARP. “The housing assistance which we provide complements what the Armenian government is doing and it’s where we can have the greatest impact. The cause of Syrian refugees is the humanitarian test of our times, and we’ve been humbled by the support we’ve received from around the world.”

Raffy Ardhaldjian , Photo credit AGBU Yerevan

Raffy Ardhaldjian , Photo credit AGBU Yerevan

In 2015, close to 1,000 Syrian-Armenian families in Armenia benefited from the joint rental-subsidy program, which was managed by the UNHCR and Oxfam.

 

“As a host country, Armenia has been absolutely exemplary in terms of the ratio of welcomed Syrian-Armenian refugees to the number of native inhabitants,” said Christoph Bierwirth, the UNHCR Representative in Armenia. According to a new study published by the European Friends of Armenia, Armenia hosts six Syrian refugees per 1,000 nationals—a ratio much higher than many European countries or the US, especially noteworthy given the country’s economic circumstance.

Christoph Bierwirth (UNHCR) and Bradley Busetto (UN Resident Coordinator). Photo credit AGBU Armenia

Christoph Bierwirth (UNHCR) and Bradley Busetto (UN Resident Coordinator). Photo credit AGBU Armenia

 

While UNHCR has committed to continuing its Syrian-Armenian relief efforts in 2016, it announced a budget reduction in the program, reflecting the exhausted resources of humanitarian agencies throughout the region. In response to the UNHCR budget reduction, ARP mobilized a cross section of diaspora philanthropists and organizations, and partnered with Oxfam Armenia, in order to supplement the UNHCR housing-assistance program in 2016, thereby fulfilling the budgetary shortfall.

 

In this effort, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, the Primate of the Western Diocese in Los Angeles, has played a key role in rallying the diaspora’s support.  “Although displacement is a part of our common history, the diaspora’s mobilization today will prevent displacement from also being a part of our common future,” said Archbishop Derderian.

Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, photo credit Darlene Wendels / The Collegian

Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, photo credit Darlene Wendels / The Collegian

“Our collective conscience alone cannot make a difference without sufficient funding to realize a project such as this which ensures, to some degree, that the displaced families live in their homeland with dignity. Furthermore, we are confident that the support of the Armenian diaspora at this time will pave the way for additional assistance provided to our Syrian-Armenian compatriots.”

 

Margarita Hakobyan, Country Director for Oxfam in Armenia, said that by addressing the immediate housing problems of displaced Syrian families, the rental-subsidy program contributes to securing sustainable livelihoods for hundreds of Syrian-Armenian families in 2015 who started new lives in Armenia—the land of their ancestors.

Margarita Hakobyan. Photo credit AGBU Yerevan

Margarita Hakobyan. Photo credit AGBU Yerevan

 

 

“However, due to the escalation of war in Syria, the influx of displaced Armenians from Syria continues, and the need for housing is increasing. Therefore, there is high urgency to mobilize our joint efforts in supporting displaced Syrian-Armenians in 2016, and I am sure together we can do it," Hakobyan added.

 

Thanks to the support provided by both UNHCR and the Armenian Diaspora consortium with Oxfam, over 500 vulnerable Syrian-Armenian refugee families in Armenia will be eligible to continue to receive housing assistance in 2016. The rental subsidies aim at creating an interim safety net in their lives.

 

“High housing costs in Armenia make it nearly impossible for Syrian-Armenian refugees to make ends meet,” Ardhaldjian explained. “The significance of housing assistance becomes amply evident when you consider that most Syrian-Armenian refugees arrive in Armenia with little or no savings these days; that, on average, only one person per refugee household works due to the lack of job opportunities; and that a whopping 69 percent of a refugee family’s income is spent on monthly housing costs on average.” Furthermore, Ardhaldjian added that “rental subsidies are a proven best practice in terms of direct aid distribution to vulnerable refugees.”

 

SARF, which recently raised more than $1.2 million during its inaugural “Save a Life” telethon in Los Angeles, has been a strategic partner in this project and announced its commitment to the 2016 program with a $50,000 grant.

 

“Whether temporary or permanent, settling Syrian-Armenian refugees in Armenia is a natural choice. SARF, for the second year, participates in the consortium of diaspora donors in helping provide rental subsidy for hundreds of displaced families. By complementing the free education and healthcare services provided by the Government of Armenia, we ultimately hope to bring some normalcy to the lives of refugees as they move on to finding more permanent solutions,” said John Tititizian, Chair of SARF.

John Titizian and Raffi Kendirdjian (L2R) co-chairs of SARF

John Titizian and Raffi Kendirdjian (L2R) co-chairs of SARF

 

Dr. Razmik Panossian, Director of the Gulbenkian Foundation’s Armenian Communities Department, a major supporter of the program, also expressed the Gulbenkian Foundation’s ongoing endorsement.

Dr. Razmik Panossian, photo credit AGBU Yerevan

Dr. Razmik Panossian, photo credit AGBU Yerevan

“We are very pleased to support ARP’s initiative to help Syrian-Armenian refugees in Armenia,” said Panossian. “The project has identified a real need, and mobilized support in an exemplary manner, drawing on the expertise and resources of key institutions such as the UNHCR, Oxfam, the Government of Armenia and civil society. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation commits to provide funding in 2016 to assist with the housing needs of the refugees in Armenia.”

 

The 2016 program will include a social services component intended to improve the socioeconomic conditions of not only newly arriving Syrian refugees but also of the hundreds of refugee families already enrolled in the program.  Collectively, this humanitarian intervention is one of the largest continuing programs targeting Syrian refugees in Armenia.

Syrian refugee beneficiaries of the the Rent Subsidy Program in Armenia. Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Syrian refugee beneficiaries of the the Rent Subsidy Program in Armenia. Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

 

About the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)

www.armenianredwoodproject.org

Founded in 2014 and pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation, ARP is a non-profit social enterprise alliance among Diasporan Armenian philanthropists and organizations & International aid organizations aimed at complementing the efforts of the Government of Armenia in improving the lives of Syrian refugees that have taken refuge in Armenia. As a humanitarian actor & a host country, Armenia is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of the ratio of welcomed migrants to its number of native inhabitants.

 

Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working in approximately 94 countries worldwide to find solutions to poverty and what it considers to be injustice around the world. Oxfam is committed to providing humanitarian aid to those in need during times of conflict. Oxfam is providing aid and long­term support to hundreds of thousands of people affected by the crisis in Syria, one of the organization’s priorities. Oxfam has already reached over 1 million people both inside Syria and in neighboring countries affected by the crisis.

 

 

 

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Everyone Deserves a Christmas

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Everyone Deserves a Christmas

The Roman Catholic Church established Dec. 25 as Christmas in the fourth century, but Armenians kept to an older date.  Armenians also maintain various traditions around the year end holidays; They usually clean their homes before Christmas, and decorate a Christmas tree with fruit, white doves and golden bows. They also typically abstain from eating meat during the week leading up to the holiday. On Christmas Eve, they feast on a traditional fish and rice dish and certain sweets.

Christmas Tree at theMother See of Holy Etchmiadzin (HQ of the Armenian Church). Photo credit James Aram Elliott on assignment to the ARP

Christmas Tree at theMother See of Holy Etchmiadzin (HQ of the Armenian Church). Photo credit James Aram Elliott on assignment to the ARP

Anooshaboor (“sweet soup”) is eaten from New Year’s until Christmas, which the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates, according to ancient Christian tradition, on January 6th every year. 

As I dipped my spoon into my mother's traditional anooshaboor this morning, my thoughts went elsewhere, into the thousands of displaced Syrian Armenian refugees as Christmas looms on them.

anooshaboor.jpg

In the last few years, over 16,000 Syrian refugees have taken refuge in Armenia and many are celebrating their first Christmas in their new - and safe - home. But according to many, their thoughts are never far from what they left behind or entangled by the unknowns that they will be facing in the new year.

Syrian families trying to rebuild new lives in Armenia. Photo credit Zaven Khatchikyan

Syrian families trying to rebuild new lives in Armenia. Photo credit Zaven Khatchikyan

The year-end holidays and now Christmas, can stir a range of conflicting emotions - and few feel it more than recently arrived refugees.  Many of the refugees that the ARP has been talking to, recently said that they don't feel like "celebrating anything". Reflecting on their newly impoverished lives and war-torn Aleppo can be painful. Many seem worried about the challenges ahead.

Photo credit: Ara Oshagan on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit: Ara Oshagan on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

 

Others Syrian refugees (and among them many Christians, including Armenians), have decided to cross the Mediterranean out of desperation and in search of a better life. Many continued to drown in the Aegean in the weeks since the world was shocked when 3 year old Aylan Kurdi's body lied face down on a Turkish beach as the world continued to turn away.

Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

... and while others crossed across Europe in search of safety and a better life.

Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The plight of the Syrian refugees is really similar to many, many Armenian families that survived the Syrian deserts at the turn of the century.   This crisis should inspire generosity among the transnational Armenian communities around the world as they contemplate the coming of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas Day.

Photo credit: Berge Arabian with refugees from the Armenian village of Kessab

Photo credit: Berge Arabian with refugees from the Armenian village of Kessab

Armenia has been an exemplary host country for Syrian refugees seeking refuge. It has avoided homelessness, refugee camps and provided Syrians with various social services.  Solidarity with the struggles of Syrian-Armenians runs strong in Armenia, but the government has been struggling to accommodate and integrate thousands of arrivals.  It is the Armenian Diaspora's moral responsibility to continue to extend a hand to Syria's victims, as the Syrian crisis enters its 5th year. The cause will also be a test of our humanity.  Furthermore, the nation will be watching how the Diaspora's various leadership groups contribute to this cause, now that the centennial commemoration of the Genocide is behind us.

 

There are ten million people displaced from Syria. We (Armenians) have a duty to help more than just the ones who try to cross the sea illegally.  This Christmas let's do our share and give each of the 16,000 Syrian refugees in Armenia a roof over their head.

Syrian refugee child in Armenia circa 2015. Photo credit James Aram Elliott on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

Syrian refugee child in Armenia circa 2015. Photo credit James Aram Elliott on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

 

Քրիստոս Ծնաւ և Յայտնեցաւ, Ձեզի Մեզի Մեծ Աւետիս:

About The Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)

Founded in 2014, the ARP pioneered by the Ani & Narod Memorial Foundation is a non-profit social enterprise alliance that intends to raise awareness and employ business strategies aimed at significantly improving the lives and well-being of the thousands of Syrians impacted by the ravaging war in Syria and that seek refuge in Armenia. ARP's inaugural intervention in Armenia is the rental subsidy program to refugees in partnership with UNHCR & Oxfam Armenia along with a growing list of partners via the affordable housing consortium.  www.armenianredwoodproject.org.  

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Syrian flavours in Yerevan (Part I)

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Syrian flavours in Yerevan (Part I)

Among the thousands of Syrian refugees who fled the ravaging civil war in Syria, many are finding hope and opportunity in their homeland of Armenia. One of them is Krikor Sahakian, 64,  who has started a new life  in Yerevan, setting up a bakery in the city in 2014.


Halebi Napoli Pour is nestled between four other Syrian-Armenian businesses just one stop away from Republic Square, near the Eridasardakan metro station. Run by Krikor and his son Christ, 26, Napoli Pour serves their famous  tahini bread and other baked goods using classic Middle Eastern ingredients popular in Aleppo.

When he arrived in 2013, Krikor worked odd jobs in order to support his family. At home he would bake sweets and sell them wherever he could. In Aleppo they were known for their tahini bread, so here in Yerevan they began making that out of their kitchen at home. Eventually Krikor was able to open Halebi Napoli Pour (a reference to their bakery in Aleppo), which has been in operation for over a year now. His son Christ joined him, and with his help they were able to get on their feet gradually.  

When the bakery first opened, most customers were Syrians, but now half of the customers are local Armenians. "People come and try different things all the time," said Krikor.

He noted that Syrian foods are new to the locals, who are still getting to know the flavours. "Tahini bread, zatar... it is all new to them. Even the taste of our lahmajun is new to them".

Father and son say Armenia is a beautiful country and that they feel free here. “ I like the beauty here. I like that in the streets everyone around you is Armenian. Whoever you speak to is Armenian. Armenian-ness is all around you here. It is your homeland. If I go to Europe or America I have to learn a new language to live there. Here, I am with my people. This is my homeland.

The Sahakians hope to one day purchase their own property and build a house in Yerevan. They recognize that they have to work hard in order to create a life with the same comforts they had in Aleppo, but they are confident they will succeed and that things will be better for them here in Armenia.

“We always say that the more Armenians from diaspora come here, the better it will be for Armenia. We decided to stay in our homeland, to add our strengths to this country and to get back on our feet.”

Syrian Refugees present an opportunity to bring resilience and diversity in the form of human capital to host countries. Armenia has been exemplary that way as it hosts 6 refugees per 1000 citizens according to the NGO European Friends of Armenia.

This Xmas, the ARP and the housing coalition it has formed in partnership with Oxfam and UNHCR are celebrating by giving hundreds of Syrian refugee families the right to have a roof over their head in a safe country, where their experience is valuable and needed and where they are home. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why should Armenian Organizations work together to ensure resiliency in the face of the Syrian crisis ?

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Why should Armenian Organizations work together to ensure resiliency in the face of the Syrian crisis ?

The UN’s humanitarian agencies are on the verge of bankruptcy and unable to meet the basic needs of millions of people because of the scale of the refugee crisis in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, as senior figures within the UN have been signaling for a while. The majority of the UN’s humanitarian work is funded entirely by donations from individual governments and private donors, with agencies such as the UNHCR executing the work. The current humanitarian budget of $18B for next year is so far only half funded.  In this context next year's UNHCR budget for Armenia has also been halved from $1.8M (in 2015) to $935K (in 2016). These budget cuts will be felt by the most vulnerable class of refugees.

Armenia as a regional host country,  has welcomed its fair share of refugees from Syria. The European Friends of Armenia has recently published a paper which analyses the response of the European Union, Armenia and countries in the Middle East to the Syrian refugee crisis.  According to the study, it appears that Armenia is one of the top Eurasian countries in terms of refugees welcomed per inhabitant: it hosts 6 Syrian refugees per 1000 inhabitants, more than far richer European countries.  To its credit, Armenia and the humanitarian agencies within Armenia have avoided housing refugees in camps and have so far not faced refugee homelessness like in other host countries. This is great news in terms of Armenia (and Armenians globally) acting on their universal human values.

That said, five years into the conflict in Syria, over 50 percent of the population (around 11M) is either internally displaced or has fled the country.  Armenia and the Diaspora, just like other entities, countries and continents like the EU were not only intellectually unprepared, it appears that we were all also operationally unprepared to face the scale of the crisis, and the epic movement of people: the largest since WW2.  None of the current leaders of the Armenian world have seen anything of this proportion affect our nation in the last quarter century.

But the Syrian crisis is not only a local crisis in Syria, or a crisis for Syrian Armenians.  Today it's a global crisis affecting large countries, regions and continents. From a humanitarian perspective, the Syrian crisis is the humanitarian test of our times.

Photo credit Berge Arabian on assignment with the refugees from Kessab

Photo credit Berge Arabian on assignment with the refugees from Kessab

 

We at the Armenian Redwood Project have long advocated that the Armenian response to this problem needed to be unite or work jointly with most Diasporan Armenian organizations and the capabilities of the Government of Armenia. While Armenia (with the help of International agencies and the Diaspora) has been able so to far provide refugee services such as health, education, sanitation and some socio-economic infrastructure, the demand - as we all know it - is much greater that the allocated resources.  In addition, most of the affected Syrian Armenians are not all located in Armenia proper, but dispersed in Lebanon and/or parts of Syria.  Unfortunately, our recent data from Armenia and Lebanon indicates that mostly the poor seem to be the ones that have been left behind in Syria. Whoever has left or is leaving, still arriving with almost no savings in their pockets at host destinations, leaving Syria's Armenians in exhaustion and desperation like the rest of the traumatized population.  Some Armenians, like many other migrants, have even drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean.

It appears that over the course of the past few years, there were attempts by various organizations to coordinate " local united relief efforts to assist Syrian Armenians" in Aleppo, Lebanon, Armenia and elsewhere.  Unfortunately, as time has elapsed these efforts seem to have gotten fragmented, and have thus limited the needed impact of the humanitarian intervention.  The government of Armenia - through its Ministry of Diaspora - has tried to keep up with events,  but it seems to have been unable to fully capitalize on this historic opportunity to unite and rally the vast resources of the Armenian trans-Nation and institutionalize the needed humanitarian aid in a systematic and continuous ways. Neither has the All Armenia Fund been able to address this challenge in the last 5 years. 

Even more, we can honestly attest that most Diasporan Armenian organizations seem to have lost the Resiliency they once demonstrated during the 1988 Earthquake in Armenia or the early years of Independence. The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the proportional failure (and sometimes indifference) of the collective Armenian response to it on the eve of the centennial of the Genocide has been frankly shocking. 

History will inevitably assess world leaders on their failures when it comes to the Syrian crisis.  History will also assess Armenian leaders and Diasporan organizations who allowed themselves be consumed by commemorations of the Genocide centenary to the detriment of the Syrian-Armenian crisis. We at the ARP have reminded many that If we are a nation worthy of its name, we cannot work our way out of this disaster by looking the other way and just hoping migration towards Armenia and the West will be possible and solve the problem.

western migration.jpg

 

Building on lessons learned from past calamities -- genocides, civil wars, the earthquake of 1988 --  we should have mobilized manpower and resources and focused on not merely an initial emergency response, but a long-term strategy designed to secure the safety and security of the Syrian-Armenian community. What we have done is inadequate, not nearly enough.

We didn't do enough, because we only raised a few million dollars instead of the needed tens of millions. We didn't do enough, because our response was unlike America's historic response to the Armenian Genocide through Near East Relief. We did not do enough, because we went about with business as usual while the poorest Armenians were left behind.

As we enter 2016, our nation has over 30,000 displaced refugees outside of Syria, and many others displaced within Syria, and thousands living in difficult conditions in Aleppo and Damascus. The Genocide centennial is over but the exodus is not.  It is still not too late to better organize our collective response and live up to global humanitarian standards.

 

In his bestselling book Why Nations Fail , world renowned Turkish-Armenian economist, Daron Acemoglu talks often about proper INSTITUTIONSas indispensable nation building tool.  In 2016, Armenians can maybe look at the Syrian refugee crisis as an opportunity.  A moment in history that infuses fresh human capital into Armenia; a time when we stop being victims of a distant catastrophe and rise up to save our own and others; an experience that can teach our organizations to work together and launch nation building institutions; a moment when after 100 years, when act as though we don't need to rely helplessly on Relief Agencies from distant lands to save our people.  

When the UN system and entire continents are unable to sustain aid to Syrian refugees, it is naive to still believe that fragmented Armenian organizational attempts can deliver the necessary aid. Rather, the Diaspora has an opportunity to organize itself along INSTITUTIONAL lines in alignment with international aid agencies and in cooperation with ministries of the Republic of Armenia. Professional platforms organized by areas of intervention are needed, and not feeble solo attempts.

We at the ARP realizing the enormity of the needs, have partnered with UNHCR, Oxfam and the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF) and are still partnering with others (as of this date) along a very focused area of need: AFFORDABLE HOUSING to refugees in Armenia. The joint program does not distinguish between Iraqi or Syrian origin refugees, or political and religious affiliations among those refugees in Armenia. It is a needs based institutional program that operates according to guidelines and standard operating procedures.  This transparent platform approach, will soon also have a "working group" comprised of various Armenian and International NGOs that will look at future improvements and sustainable solutions in the refugee housing domain.  This effort while addressing a single focussed need (housing), is an example of cooperative and inclusive efforts that can leverage more resources from International and Armenian sources.

Refugees need time, help and resources to integrate into urban Armenia. Photo credit Zaven Khatchikyan

Refugees need time, help and resources to integrate into urban Armenia. Photo credit Zaven Khatchikyan

 

In 2016, There are no reason why Armenian Organizations should not work together in the white space where there is full agreement (among everyone) like providing assistance to needy refugees seeking shelter in Armenia. On the contrary, not working together (for whatever reason) is sub-optimal.

Our main point is that these INSTITUTIONAL approaches in the 21st century can help focus on building resilience and ensure that communities not only recover from a crisis but also improve the longer-term development prospects needed to move forward.  If we approach this crisis through the perspective of RESILIENCE, we can not only survive, but emerge from it stronger.  Looking at the Syrian Refugee Crisis not only as a challenge but also as an Opportunity, can allow us to take advantage of new social, cultural and economic possibilities we might have never imagined possible.

Photo credit: Zaven Khatchikyan on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit: Zaven Khatchikyan on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project

In this context, we at the ARP remind the responsible elements of the Armenian nation, that it is imperative to have an integrated approach across geographies, functions and national systems including the ability to bring together ideas, work together and deliver coordinated actions. Very much like the global centennial committee efforts that were brought together prior to 2015, but for the sole goal of increasing our nation's resilience in the face of this crisis of epic proportions.

I am writing to the Armenian leadership across geographies in the hope that we can persuade them, and others through them, that it is time to prioritize addressing this crisis now and work through a unified matter. The Armenians remaining trapped in Syria, then also the Armenians trapped as refugees, need the Diaspora and the homeland, and the Spyurk & Haiastan need to help them. If they do so successfully, our people will help themselves – morally and existentially, and both the homeland and the Diaspora will be better able to see themselves as active agents of their own fate. If they fail, they will have failed not only our kin in need, but ourselves as a nation.

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project

Photo credit James Aram Elliot on assignment for the Armenian Redwood Project


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Ashkhen's Story: Leaving it all behind

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Ashkhen's Story: Leaving it all behind

Ashkhen, her husband, and two daughters Serli, 3, and Arpi, 9, fled Syria and came to Yerevan following the first explosion in their Aleppo neighborhood on July 23, 2012. 

Ashkhen and Vartan spent 12 years building their lives in Aleppo where Vartan opened a pharmacy and Ashkhen worked in a literary magazine, writing articles, poems and novels. The couple, and their children, lived in the home of Vartan's parents, but always dreamed  of their own. Finally, in 2011 the couple secured a loan and purchased their apartment, only to leave everything behind and flee just a short year later.

When they arrived in Armenia, the family was placed in a dormitory in the outskirts of Yerevan. With no other option,  and despite the very poor conditions, they stayed. Because of the hardships, Ashkhen developed a benign tumor in her breast and underwent an operation to remove it. During this time, Vartan found work as a pharmacist and Ashkhen got a job in a second-hand clothing store, but they still struggled to make ends meet. 

After 1 year and 7 months, the family was obliged to leave the dormitory as both Ashkhen and Vartan had Armenian nationalities and were therefore no longer considered refugees. In order to ensure the family's safety and security, Mission Armenia NGO provided them with a subsidy to rent an apartment in one of the suburbs of the capital.

Arpi and Serli doing their homework 

Arpi and Serli doing their homework 

Frustrated with the living conditions in Yerevan, Vartan emigrated to Sweden and surrendered in a refugee camp. However, he was refused asylum and has since been separated from his family.  His health has deteriorated, and he is now waiting for an operation on his kidneys before returning to Armenia.

The family stays in touch through Viber and Skype, but the children miss their father terribly and hope to be united soon.

Ashkhen has hopes for a new life in Dilijan, where she spent her honeymoon with Vartan in 2000. She, along with a group of fellow refugees, visited Dilijan with ASBA and the Armenian Redwood Project in November 2015. She has applied to participate in ARP's supportive housing pilot project and will be receiving a 2-year full rent subsidy as well as social services to assist with socio-economic integration.  On January 1, 2016 Ashkhen will finally have an opportunity to start a new life and raise her children in Dilijan.

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Askhen's circumstances are not unlike many Syrian families.  As Vartan's case demonstrates, westward migration is not always a possibility and many families simply cannot afford to live in Yerevan, even with two members of the family working.

The Armenian Redwood Project is conducting a small pilot experiment with ASBA to reduce many of the barriers to socio-economic integration in regions outside of Yerevan for refugees like Ashkhen and Vartan. We believe that Syrian refugees can be a rich source of human capital to emerging regions like Dilijan, which is currently the fastest growing urban area in Armenia.  Together with ASBA, the Armenian Redwood Project is cooperating with the Municipality of Dilijan to welcome Syrian refugees an provide various benefits upon moving into one of Armenia's growing cities. ARP is also coordinating across agencies to make Ashkhen's transition easier;  ARP is working with UNHCR Armenia to get Ashkhen a one time allowance for basic household furniture.  Mission Armenia NGO will be providing mattresses and blankets. The Aleppo Compatriot Charitable Organization another important partner that has long worked with the ARP in showcasing Dilijan to refugees will continue to be involved and provide support. 

Together with all our operating partners, we look forward to empower Ashkhen to build a new life soon and hope it will be followed by other Syrian Refugees looking to build a new life in the beautiful city of Dilijan.

 

Askhen and other Syrian refugees on their first trip to Dilijan listening to Mr. Ara Nazinyan from ASBA

Askhen and other Syrian refugees on their first trip to Dilijan listening to Mr. Ara Nazinyan from ASBA

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From Kobani to Yerevan Part 2:  Ilona Tomassian's New Life In Armenia - A Syrian Refugee Family's Journey to a new Life in Yerevan, Armenia.

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From Kobani to Yerevan Part 2: Ilona Tomassian's New Life In Armenia - A Syrian Refugee Family's Journey to a new Life in Yerevan, Armenia.

Ilona left everything behind to flee with her husband and three children to Suruc, as Syria's civil war was closing in on their village in Kobane in 2014. This was the second time she had to leave a place she called home after fleeing Baku during the massacres.

Despite successfully escaping, Ilona’s husband, an auto mechanic by trade, was killed by ISIS gunfire when he returned to Kobane to retrieve spare parts from his garage three months ago.

Ilona and her children Varduhi, 16, Aram, 14, and Karo, 7, spent almost a year in Turkey's crowded, often chaotic camps before arriving in Yerevan about six weeks ago.

The Tomassians at the refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey

The Tomassians at the refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey

Becoming a refugee

Ilona fled Baku after the Sumgait massacre in 1989, when she was 16 years old. Her family went to live in Russia for several months but then came back when the situation calmed a bit for Ilona to resume her studies at high school. After graduation, Ilona’s parents sent her to Yerevan to study at the university level. As the situation in Baku grew violent once more, Ilona’s parents were able to escape and meet her in the Armenian capital. 

Several years later Ilona’s sister married a Syrian-Armenian student and moved to live in Aleppo, Syria.  When she gave birth, Ilona went to visit her and met Hovsep, her brother in law, and the two fell in love. They married in September 1995 and settled in Kobane where Hovsep ran a car repair garage. Living in Kobane was difficult for Ilona who was a city girl, but she acclimated as she had her loving husband by her side.

When the war first broke out, Hovsep continued to work during ceasefires in order to make ends meet. But by summer 2014 things worsened—for their last year in Kobane the family lived without electricity, running water, or sufficient amounts of food.

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Becoming a double refugee

At the end of September, ISIS entered the Kobane region resulting in the flight of people from the city and nearby villages.

Ilona and Hovsep learned that Turkey was accepting refugees in bordering Suruc, so they loaded their minivan with all the essentials and fled. In Suruc the Kurdish soldiers helped the family cross the border and sheltered them a public school as no other temporary shelter options were available.

The family stayed in Suruc for over nine months waiting for Kobane to reestablish peace, but it never happened.
The Tomassians had no savings so they lived exclusively off of humanitarian aid. In early 2015, Hovsep started working in Urfa as an auto mechanic to provide for his family. When the situation in Kobane gained some stability in May of 2015, Hovsep decided to return to Kobane with Aram to retrieve the spare auto parts he had left in his garage. One night, as Hovsep entered a shop, ISIS fighters attacked the town killing everyone they found on the streets, including Hovsep in front of his son Aram.

Ilona will her extended family in their new home in Yerevan

Ilona will her extended family in their new home in Yerevan

Back to the homeland

Today Ilona’s family shares a two-bedroom apartment in Komitas district of Yerevan that is subsidized by Mission Armenia and Armenian Redwood Project.

Moreover, the Tomassians are now having therapy sessions with a psychologist to help them overcome the post-traumatic stress developed during their experience of the Syrian Civil War.

The children have resumed their studies in a local school and Ilona has already found a job in a workshop, sewing leather goods.

(c) James Aram Elliott

(c) James Aram Elliott

Ilona’s eldest son Hakob still lives in an unofficial refugee camp in the Netherlands, waiting for his asylum papers to be processed by the government. He longs to reunite with his family in Armenia, but knows it may take some time before he can see them again.  

Aram is exited to start attending a military school soon but he still dreams of going back to Kobane one day, reopening his father’s garage and living the life he used to have back in Syria. 

"I miss my village," he says. "Our house is there, our garage with all the equipment is there, all of my friends are there." 

Getting used to the urban life in Yerevan is becoming easier as the family starts acquiring local friends who help them start a new life and assist them on their journey in making Armenia their new and safe home. Ilona is full of hope this is an opportunity for her children to realize their potential and to live in dignity with a sense of belonging.

Garoushig, Ilona's youngest child with his new friend: an Armenian shepherd dog

Garoushig, Ilona's youngest child with his new friend: an Armenian shepherd dog

After safely transporting all 18 Tomassians to Armenia, the ARP's social worker continued to work with Ilona on everyday integration issues in Armenia.  In the last month, ARP paired up Ilona Tomassian with a generous (anonymous) Diasporan benefactor/sponsor in order to ease Ilona's transition phase.

Ilona's story while heartbreaking, is no different than all suffering that has resulted from the senseless war in Syria and its aftermaths like the attacks in Paris last week. While we cannot stop the war, WE CAN make a difference in the lives of individual families.

Although displacement is a part of Armenian common history, the support of our sponsors is helping prevent it from also being a part of our common future.

 

 

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TOGETHER, We Brought Them HOME After 100 years of exile

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TOGETHER, We Brought Them HOME After 100 years of exile

As the world has been watching the flow of desperate migrants from the Middle East hoping to reach Europe, some 2,600 migrants have drowned while more than 350,000 migrants have risked their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean the UN says.

And as the photos of a drowned Syrian boy sparked outcry today near the vacation town of Bodrum in Turkey, we actually wanted to report some happy news to our constituents.  The Tomassian family , one of the last Armenian families in Kobani, Syria (Arab Pinar known for many Armenian refugees who settled there around 1915 fleeing the Armenian genocide)

Photo credit Berge/Agos: a few months ago in the Suruc refugee camp

Photo credit Berge/Agos: a few months ago in the Suruc refugee camp

 

who fled their homes and has been living in a UN tent camp in Suruc, (Southern Turkey) just landed in Yerevan, Armenia today.  They were greeted by social workers, the media, some relatives and many welcoming compatriots. 

Hagop Tomassian hugging relatives at Yerevan Zvartnots Airport

Hagop Tomassian hugging relatives at Yerevan Zvartnots Airport

A lot of work went into getting the Tomassian family out of their difficult conditions of a tent camp and into the urban environment of Yerevan. Many should be credited for the exemplary humanitarian work. Most notably his Beatitude Archbishop Aram Ateshian – Co-Patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople who personally took it upon himself to assist this family.

His Beatitude Archbishop Aram Ateshian – Co-Patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople

His Beatitude Archbishop Aram Ateshian – Co-Patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople

We should also mention various governmental and non-governmental institutions who each did their share separately to affect the happy outcome, including the Ministry of the Diaspora within the Government of Armenia, the team at Agos Newspaper in Istanbul, UNHCR, the Red Cross, Mission Armenia NGO and the Government of Turkey, among many others who will remain unnamed.

The Tomassians at their interim social housing being greeted by a social worker

The Tomassians at their interim social housing being greeted by a social worker

This was a tale of a family that has touched us and many others on a personal level, as we related with their plight as refugees.  There were many moments of despair in the last few months when obstacles doomed and prospects for the Tomassians looked dark and hopeless. We were pleasantly surprised as to how many friends contributed their small share (i.e. housing family members, or pick ups from the airport) throughout the journey. And with every obstacle, there was more goodwill outpouring from everywhere.  At the end, light out shinned darkness.

Now finally, the Tomassian children can play in safe playgrounds again like normal children do.

The Tomassian children playing in a playground in Yerevan

The Tomassian children playing in a playground in Yerevan

At the Armenian Redwood Project, we have long maintained that efforts by various Armenian stakeholders (whether in the diaspora, Syria, or Armenia) to address this crisis have been fragmented, with each entity focusing on doing its own thing.  Besides the Tomassians, we know many of cases that need immediate intervention today through professional/coordinated institutional means. In addition to emergency response, refugee families will also need post-conflict efforts to assist displaced refugees, such as integration in new communities, creation of jobs, provision of affordable housing, education, healthcare, for years to come.

If we are a surviving nation worth its grain, we cannot solve our way out of this mess by looking the other way and just letting westward migration be the answer.

 

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We strongly feel that all Armenian leaders who spoke so eloquently in April 2015, in commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, now have the opportunity — and obligation — to address a global (and a national) issue that has spiraled into epic proportions.

But until then, the "the award goes" to the Tomassian family who has survived exile and is ready to re-build a new life again in Armenia, in the tradition of our ancestors. 

This Saturday, the other Tomassian daughter will be joining her clan in Yerevan with her own family from their refuge in Bourj Hammoud (Armenian: Պուրճ Համուտ), Lebanon and thus a large family disseminated by a cruel war will be (God willing) reunited once again.

This refugee tale might sound like a postcard from far away; but it reflects the reality of thousands of Syrian families. Not all of them will be as lucky as the Tomassians.

For now, its September again. Schools will welcome the Tomassian children again in Armenia. We can sleep comfortably knowing that another refugee family has made it to safety and will be sleeping in normal beds again after 3 long years of exile. 

We thank everyone who has enabled us to act on their values and literally change lives.

Photo credit: Berge/Agos

Photo credit: Berge/Agos

Our condolences goes to the Tomassian family for the senseless loss of their brother at the hands of ISIS criminals in Kobani as initially reported by Hurriyet daily news.  Our heartfelt feelings also to the recently widowed Ilona , and her surviving children Aram, Vartoug and Garo.  Time will heal, as new lives will sprout.

The two brothers have hopes to support the family and rebuild again, just like their grandparents did so a 100 years ago when they first arrived as refugees in Kobani.

Hagop and Serop Tomassian shoulder to shoulder. Photo credit Berge/Agos.

Hagop and Serop Tomassian shoulder to shoulder. Photo credit Berge/Agos.

 

We are happy today and we join our fellow German soccer fans who recently reminded their leaders how they felt about the refugees crisis.



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Why should Syrian Armenian families end up in Turkish refugee camps in 2015 ?

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Why should Syrian Armenian families end up in Turkish refugee camps in 2015 ?

Just like their ancestors forced from their homes in Eastern Anatolia in 1915-16, the last Armenian families living in the embattled northern Syrian town of Kobane have fled after the repeated jihadist attacks - and they do not intend to go back - Idris Emen, Sanliurfa for Hurriyetdailynews

The Turkish newspaper Hurriet reported that the last  Armenian families left Kobani due to ISIL attack . Some of of these Armenian families are currently living at the Turkish Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) refugee camp in the Suruç district of Şanlıurfa province. 

Kobane/Ayn al-Arab was founded as a small settlement in 1892 during the Ottoman period. It became a town in 1911 with the construction of a railway station there.  It was soon populated by Armenian refugees fleeing persecution in Turkey in 1915, although many were forcefully moved further south, scattered between Qamishli and Deir el-Zor. The Armenians were followed by Kurds from Anatolia.  By the middle of the 20th century, there were three Armenian churches and two schools in the town, but most of the Armenian population emigrated to the Soviet Union in the 1960s.  Until the start of the Syrian civil war many Armenians worked around Kobani in various fields and many Armenian families trace some roots to Ayn al-Arab.  According to political scientist Cengiz Aktar of the Istanbul Policy Center, the area surrounding Kobani is known as “‘the Armenian cemetery’ because of the thousands of Armenians who died there during the deportations of 1915.

While we have been concerned about the faith of the Armenian community in Aleppo as a major offensive is under way by rebel forces, we are also concerned about the plight of smaller Armenian communities in remote areas like Ayn-El Arab, Qamishli, Hassakeh, Kessab and elsewhere. As Robert Fisk has reported previously small communities - Like the one in Deir el Zour - got completely destroyed.

Islamists’ rebels destruction of a shrine to the victims of genocide in Deir el Zour

Islamists’ rebels destruction of a shrine to the victims of genocide in Deir el Zour

 

We are also concerned about the plight of 374 Armenians from Mosul that took refuge in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, after the fall of Mosul in June of 2014.

Why haven't (and still Aren't) collective efforts of the Armenian Diaspora in coordination with the Government of Armenia undertaking an organized effort to "evacuate" endangered small Armenian communities that are in harms way in Syria and Iraq into safety in Armenia ?

Armenia today has charitable programs established by major international organizations (UNHCR, Oxfam, Caritas, etc.) and in coordination with the Government of Armenia and some Diasporan organizations with a capacity to provide hundreds of Syrian refugee families humanitarian social services (rent subsidy, healthcare, education, etc.).

Syrian refugees in Armenia receiving rent subsidies to rebuild their lives in 2015. Photo credit Ghadah Alrawi on assignment for the ARP

Syrian refugees in Armenia receiving rent subsidies to rebuild their lives in 2015. Photo credit Ghadah Alrawi on assignment for the ARP


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