Armenian refugees take stock of loss from Syrian war

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Maral Asmarian, a Syrian citizen of Armenian descent left her hometown, Aleppo, in 2012. [Photo courtesy of Asmarian]

Maral Asmarian, a Syrian citizen of Armenian descent left her hometown, Aleppo, in 2012. [Photo courtesy of Asmarian]

Maral Asmarian, a Syrian citizen of Armenian descent, left her hometown of Aleppo in 2012 with her brother, his wife and three children to the Armenian capital Yerevan in search of a 15-day respite from the sound of explosions.

However, the trip turned into a permanent residence when the family was not able to return due to the rapid deterioration of security in Syria.

"We never thought of leaving Aleppo despite all of the events," Asamarian, 59, told Al-Shorfa, but the "deterioration of the situation forced us to extend our stay until today".

Like so many others caught up in the war, Asmarian and her family saw their lives turned upside down.

"We left behind our house, property and shops," she said. "I never thought when I closed door of the house that I will not be returning to it anytime soon. I left behind all the memories."

Once a prominent family in Aleppo, now they earn a living as cooks at a monastery restaurant in Yerevan.

"We prepare Aleppo and Armenian dishes but can barely cover the living expenses of my brother’s family," she said.

"I do not know what our fate will be or where we will end up, or whether we will one day return to our normal lives in Aleppo," she said.

Thousands fled

Since the outbreak of the war in Syria in 2011, 18,000 Syrian Armenians have fled to Armenia.

Syria was home to a small community of 60,000 to 100,000 Armenian Christians, many of whom lived in Aleppo.

At the outbreak of the war, the Armenian government formed a government committee to care for Syrian refugees.

"The number of Syrian Armenians in Armenia totals 18,000 of whom 6,000 are under the care of the Diocese in Yerevan," the bishop of Armenian Catholics in Armenia Bishop Raphael Minassian told Al-Shorfa.

He said the Armenian Ministry of Immigration, the Caritas organization and the Armenian Red Cross provide them with facilities to adapt to their new lives.

The Armenian government enrolled the children of refugees in schools free of charge and is providing families with medical insurance and rental allowances, he said.

"The government, with assistance from the United Nations, initiated a small loans program to help them start their own businesses," said Minassian.

However, despite all the facilitations, Syrian Armenians are having difficulty adapting to the new society, including the fact that their "families are split and their members are scattered between Syria, Armenia and Europe".

In limbo

Another Armenia refugee displaced by the war in Syria is Jameela Nasri Hakimian.

"I was living on my own in our house after my father traveled to Chicago where my two sisters and two brothers were," Hakimian, 50, told Al-Shorfa.

"My job at a soil analysis lab kept me from leaving al-Hasakeh until terrorism came knocking on its doors and [invaded] its neighborhoods," she said.

Hakimian said she was living a good life in Syria and when the war broke out, she worked with the UN World Food Programme.

"But the threat of terrorism drove me to leave everything and all the memories and face the difficulties of being a refugee and seeing my family scattered," she said.

Fourteen months ago she fled to Armenia via Damascus and Beirut.

Despite all the assistance she is receiving from the Armenian government and non-profit organisations, Hakimian is having difficulty adjusting to the new realities.

"I was an employee and earned a decent salary for 28 years, and today I am unemployed like many of my compatriots," she said.

Hakimian lives in a small room and covers her expenses with money that her family sends her, and is eagerly awaiting "the completion of paperwork to meet my family in America".

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