“… I urge the UN Security Council to visit Syrian refugees, to see first hand their suffering and the impact it is having on the region. Those refugees cannot come to the council, so please will you go to them.” Angelina Jolie, addressing UN Security Council regarding ongoing refugee crisis in Syria.
It was a peaceful mid-April night, 2015. Sirvy and her father Gaidzag were going home from the “Vratsain” Armenian community center in the Suleymaniye area in Aleppo, when missiles fatally attacked the region. Within minutes the civilian area looked like a war zone.
Sirvy, 12 years old, almost lost one eye, while her father was seriously injured. They are one family out of dozens of innocent families and civilians who lost their lives, homes and properties. The Suleymaniye attack left many civilians dead and many more wounded.
In another recent assault, according to sources in Syria, Aleppo’s Forty Martyrs Armenian Church, dating back to the 15th century, was bombed with explosives planted in underground tunnels under the church.
Meanwhile in another village populated by Syrian Armenians, Hagop, an undergraduate university student, shares an anguish all too familiar among those still living in the war zone.
“When I leave home, I kiss my mom’s forehead and say, ‘mom, you know the situation, I may not return home, one of the mortars could hit me. You may hear bad news about me, so please forgive me for whatever wrong I did and pray for me, I love you forever,” he says, to his mother, every morning before he leaves.
Of the more than 120,000 Syrian Armenians living in Syria before the war, as of September 2014, according to UNHCR, thousands have fled the country to find protection and better living conditions in Armenia. Deepening wounds echoed by a tragic past, this would be the second forced displacement in the history of the Armenians, as 100 hundred years ago, Syria became the home of thousands of Armenian refugees who escaped the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
"We're living a second genocide now, our houses are all gone... Our people are dying again," said Maggie Melkonian, who fled from her home in Suleymaniye 2 years ago to find refuge in Lebanon. "Just as our ancestors had to leave without anything, we had to do the same," she says.
Finding a Solution
Armenian Redwood Project. Social entrepreneur Raffy Ardhaldjian, along with world-class partner OXFAM, Mission Armenia NGO and a coalition of various Armenian Diaspora entities recently launched a rent subsidy program providing a solution for vulnerable families displaced from Syria, seeking protection in Armenia.
As part of the Armenian Redwood Project, the rent subsidy program augments the emergency housing efforts pioneered by UNHCR in Armenia in 2014. This 12 month program will benefit newly arriving refugees through year end of 2015, as well as, a number of vulnerable families who arrived earlier, but are still in dire need of emergency assistance.
“Investments in rent subsidies for children & families is a 'sustainable' approach in the long-run; even though it will require continued charitable giving by the Diaspora and its International partners until these families make adjustments in their lives” said Ardhaldjian, Chief Action Officer for the ARP. “It is a privilege for us to be following the lead of UNHCR and to be joining hands with a new partner, Oxfam in Armenia. I’m hoping this partnership grows beyond this emergency intervention.”
Ardhaldjian speaks about the affordable housing program as meaningful in many ways; It creates family stability and better childhood outcomes; it’s a way to stabilize population movement; it contributes to neighborhood revitalization; and it creates wealth for refugees and economic development for the country.
It’s an interim ‘safety net’ with longer-term housing solutions explored in the meantime.
Yerevan is ranked 183rd in terms of quality of life among 230 largest cities in the world by London-based Mercer human resources consultancy. By working with private donors and organizations through the Armenian Redwood Project, Ardhaldjian hopes to make affordable housing apartments available, potentially helping refugees with a new start in life.