It is said that all children, among many rights, shall have the inalienable right to a sense of security and belonging derived from a loving and nurturing environment which shelters them from harm. For the refugee children of Syria that right is a distant fantasy almost as unreal as flying unicorns and candy rainbows.
As the Syrian Civil War escalates, thousands of children, many of whom have lost a relative, have lost their homes and settled into alien environments. What’s worse is these children are witnessing violence, trauma and living under shellfire. These kids are not protected, with many witnessing their people killed and their homes & schools destroyed. Their sense of community is stripped, their environment no longer loving. After years of living in exile, Syrian refugee resources are quickly depleting and quality of life could rapidly deteriorate to unlivable conditions.
The psychological scars upon these children are monumental, if left unaddressed. Well into its 5th year, the Syrian Civil War sees no end in sight. Violations of international law continue undiminished and the international community has failed the Syrian people by not providing the required amount of funds to address this humanitarian disaster.
One might call this another “inconvenient truth.”
The UNHCR Representative in Armenia, Mr. Christoph Bierwirth recently noted that more than 15,000 persons fleeing the conflict in Syria, primarily of ethnic Armenian background, have sought and found protection in Armenia. Many of the children represent 4th & 5th generation of descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors who sought refuge in Syria.
Re-settling in Armenia is perhaps the silver lining, the light and hope for families, primarily the refugee children, who have found some comfort and safety among a community they can call home, even temporarily. Where school becomes a part of their daily routine again and the fear and potential harm of bombing and shellfire remains a memory. A recent memory that requires another form of assistance, emotional assistance also available for many of the refugee families living in Armenia.
The Story of Khatchig and Nanor
In the case of Khatchig and Nanor, they came to Yerevan, Armenia in 2012 for summer vacation and because of the dire living conditions didn’t return to Aleppo, Syria. They were registered in the public school system and assumed their new life.
“It was very difficult for them, to start from zero,” says Taline, Khachig and Nanor’s mother. “They started from the Armenian alphabet, from the pronunciation of each Armenian letter, because many letters in Western Armenian we pronounce them differently," she added.
Today, Khachig is in 10th grade and Nanor is in 7th grade. In this case, Nanor is happier and more integrated in the community than her brother Khachig. Nanor, besides going to school, is an active member in one of the famous dance groups of Armenia. Khatchig, seemingly impacted by the effects of a war, found assimilating into his new environment challenging.
“I think we should ensure psychological and social support for our adolescents,” said Taline. Teenagers even in normal and stable communities face physical, psychological and emotional difficulties let alone those who fled a war zone and resettled in an area unfamiliar to them, she added.
“Exposure to violence can inflict considerable damage on a child’s mental health and psychological developments,” says Raffy Ardhaldjian, chief action officer of the Armenian Redwood Project. “Taking children out of harm’s way is the first step. Then children need to address their fear and anxiety. Working hard to help reestablish children’s daily routines is important. This can begin by sending them back to school, providing their family with affordable housing, healthcare and social service programs to help kids dealing with the trauma of war."
The 'inconvenient truth' is that after a full month of global solidarity around the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, we still have refugees who are being attacked and driven away from their neighborhoods. We don’t have clear graphics and photos to demonstrate how important it is to assist the innocent children of the Syrian war. Every conscious person deep down knows and after 5 years of war, it's high time for the apathy to end.
A Possible Silver Lining
Luckily Syrian refugees in Armenia are urban refugees and are not living in tent cities. They have access to urban infrastructure.
“It’s always encouraging when you step into a school and hear the laughter and children at play,” says Ardhaldjian. “As part of a global civil society, I’d like to see Armenians around the world do their part in helping the innocent children of the Syrian war. One does not need to travel far away to contribute. We are organizing programs that allow the Diaspora to be able to act on its values through crowdfunding and hopefully a telethon very soon.”
Ardhaldjian maintains that while there are programs launched offering refugees housing and education opportunities, it’s not enough to truly make the emergent impact needed.
“During the 2013-2014 academic year, the tuition fees for over 380 Syrian Armenian undergraduate and graduate university students studying in Armenia were covered by a joint project by AGBU, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the RA Ministry of Diaspora and the RA Ministry of Education,” said Ardhaldjian. “Subsequently the AGBU along with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation plan to cover tuition fees for Syrian Armenian students during the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 academic years in Armenia.”
An important step among several steps taken. However, we need to do more, much more. Syria's Refugee children deserve attention from the world. In that context, the emerging global society of the Armenian Diaspora has a moral obligation to do much more for its Armenian community in Syria and Syrian Armenian refugee children. TODAY.