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.