For Syrian Refugees, Armenia Offers a Home — and Hope

Starting over after fleeing their homeland

In the July 2019 edition of ONE, Gohar Abrahamyan reports on Syrian refugees who have found a new home in Armenia. The author offers some additional reflections below.

Writing about people who have lived through war, and suffering inconsolable pain and loss, is difficult.

It is even harder when the story involves the Armenians living in Syria, recalling the reason why the Armenians found themselves in Syria to begin with. It was in 1915, when the leaders of Ottoman Turkey decided to ”cleanse” that part of their empire of Christian Armenians living in their historical homeland for centuries. What followed were massacres, mass killings, rapes and murders that claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians. Those who survived starvation in the desert were able to start over in Syria and Lebanon.

A century later, more war and violence and targeted attacks had them fleeing once again.

I keep replaying this tragic history in my mind, filled with indignation at the historical injustice, as I meet just a few of the 20,000 Syrian Armenians forced to leave their homes because of the war.

I realize anew: no matter how terrible the war is, it does not kill what makes us human. Love and kindness are unconquerable.

One of those I meet during my visit is a woman named Salbi.

She used to work as a cook. In Syria, she earned a living to support her 7-year-old son. She played with him, taught him how to read and write.

Then, the hopes for the future were scattered by roaring explosions, and these people fled with the dust of the ruined buildings. They became exiles.

”It was November of 2012,” Salbi remembers, “and I said that we would spend the New Year in Armenia and then would go back; see how many New Years we have spent?” Her face reveals her sorrow over what was lost. “Before coming here, I had bought two pairs of shoes for my son, one pair was black and the other one was coffee-colored. I said we would take only one pair with us, and the other he would wear after we come back. Since then, how many pairs of shoes has he worn out? But I am still thinking, with all my heart, about those shoes.” She can’t forget what she left behind. “My dowry with the tablecloth embroidered by my mom, the childhood photos of my son were left there. All the things from my baby’s childhood stayed there. They are irreplaceable.”

I am crying. Salbi collapses. George, Salbi’s 14-year-old son, brings his mother some water, then hugs her and with his hand wipes away the tears on his mother’s wrinkled cheeks.

Both of them have health problems, both of them are weak; but, for now, they are so strong with each other. They are struggling together, arguing, laughing, crying together, bound together by a new life in Armenia.

Mother and son hug each other; they are far from their home, far from their dear things. But they know that they have what matters.

They have life. They have each other. That is their consolation.

That is their hope.

Read more about how Hope Takes Root in the current edition of ONE.

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