The Armenian Church celebrates the holy birth of Jesus Christ on January 6th. In the Armenian tradition, this feast day commemorates not only the birth of Jesus, but also his baptism by John the baptist. On Friday, January 6th many of the thousands of Syrian refugees in Armenia will gather to celebrate Christmas with an eye on a new year and hope in 2017.
"After staying in Lebanon for 9 months, my father, brother and I moved to Armenia in June, 2013. We hoped the situation would improve, and we would return to Aleppo, to our work,” says 32-year-old Syrian-Armenian Harout Der-Baghdasarian. “But that didn’t happen.”
“It was hard at first. On the sixth day after our arrival, I started working as a security guard at a night club. Then the club closed, and for three months I worked as a jeweler. Then I started working as a contractor for a company that helps Syrian-Armenians. Then I was cast as a bodyguard in movies,” adds Harout, smiling. “Then I worked for a Syrian-Armenian who sold fridges and air conditioners, and at nights, I worked as a security guard. Now I’m a security guard at Calumet [Lounge Bar], and I sell silver at Vernissage [a popular outdoor market in Yerevan].”
In Aleppo, Harout’s father was a wholesale silver merchant for 45 years. In 2009, he opened a store which both he and Harout managed. Harout says the differences between the markets in Armenia and Syria are many: “In Aleppo, we dealt with Arab customers and sold large pieces: plates, candlesticks, lampshades, cups… We would sell one silver lampshade for US$12,000. Here, we sell one ring, one bracelet…”
“In Syria, it was easier to earn money,” says Harout. “You could make $3,000 in one day; whereas here, for three months I worked three places, 16–22 hours a day, but I couldn’t come close to making $3,000. In Armenia, the market is small, the customers are few and their budget is limited.”
“I love Armenia, the air, the nature, and people have changed a lot in the last 10 years,” says Harout. “If you have a good job and good income, Armenia is the best country to live in. I have friends, guys and girls; though my close friends aren’t here, I’ve found a common language with people,” adds Harout, smiling. “I only want to have my own tools and raw materials to do my work.”
Harout is a beneficiary of the rent subsidy program in Armenia spored by the Armenian Redwood project and its partners to help with his apartment rent in Yerevan. He is part of the over 20,000+ refugees that Armenia has provided safe refuge and slivers of hope to.
This Armenian Christmas, thousands of Syrian refugee families in Armenia will gather around the family 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 around the world, let us rediscover the spirit of gratitude and giving during the holiday season; let us give our Syrian sisters and brothers the unflinching reassurance that they’re not alone in their struggle.
About the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP)
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. 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 NGOs like the Armenian Redwood Project.