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.
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.
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.