News / Europe

    Syria’s Armenians Return to Their Ancestral Homeland

    Syria’s Armenians Return to Their Ancestral Homelandi
    X
    March 06, 2013 7:02 PM
    As Syria’s civil war completes two years on March 15, the human cost will be more than 70,000 dead, one million refugees outside the country, and two million more people forced to find new shelter inside Syria. VOA's James Brooke reports from Yerevan, Armenia.
    James Brooke
    As Syria’s civil war marks a two-year anniversary on March 15, the human cost will be more than 70,000 dead, one million refugees outside the country, and two million more people forced to find new shelter inside Syria.
     
    One trickle of refugees has been a flow of 6,000 Armenian Christians, going north to a landlocked, mountainous country many never knew: their ancestral homeland of Armenia.
     
    Many Armenians say they have been well treated by Syrians, the people who gave shelter to their forefathers nearly one century ago, after they fled massacres by Ottoman Turks.

    In recent years, though, Armenians have watched Christians retreat from Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq. The Syrian Armenians’ quiet departure reflects their doubt that a tolerant, secular state will emerge from Syria’s civil war.

    • Aren Kurumlian, aged 15, left Aleppo, Syria for a two-week Boy Scout camp in Armenia. Nine months later, he and his family are living in Yerevan, Armenia, February 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
    • Aren Kurumlian looks at a wall map with a friend from Syria, Yerevan, Armenia, February 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
    • Between classes, Syrian Armenian students mingle with Armenian classmates at High School No. 114 in Yerevan, Armenia, February 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
    • Syrian Armenians find a home in the Anteb Restaurant, owned by Syrian Armenians in Yerevan, February 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
    • A waitress puts in an order at Anteb, where the accents and cuisine are from western Armenia, the ancestral homeland for most Syrian Armenians, February 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
    • At Anteb, the cook follows the old recipes of western Armenia, February 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
    • Sarkiss Rshdouni, a 25 year old from Aleppo, works in Yerevan as a foreign currency trader, a job where he can use his Arabic skills, February 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
    • Sarkiss Balkhian grew up in Syria and went to university in the United States before coming to Armenia, his ancestral homeland, to help refugees adjust to their new lives, February 20, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)
    • Syrian Armenians worship at St. Sarkis Church in central Yerevan, Armenia, February 25, 2013. (V. Undritz/VOA)

    Living in Armenia, thinking of Syria
     
    At Yerevan’s High School No. 114, about 150 Syrian Armenian students are now enrolled in classes.
     
    Last summer, many students left Aleppo, the homeland of Syria’s Armenian community, for what they thought would be a two-week vacation in Armenia. Now, they try to keep up with friends back home using Skype and Facebook.

    "I can’t talk with them," Maria Vartanian, aged 15, said of girlfriends back home. "Because when I talk with them, I will cry. I can’t."

    Garen Balkhian, a 17-year-old senior, said many of his old friends from Aleppo have scattered. "A couple of my friends are here in Armenia - this school," he said. "And a couple of them went to Canada.  And I know one friend who went to the [United] States."

    Across town, Sarkis Balkhian helps run an aid project designed to help Syrian Armenians find apartments, schools and jobs in Yerevan. A Syrian-Armenian himself, Balkhian went to college in the United States, and then moved to Armenia.

    "When the conflict initially started in July, a lot of Syrian Armenians believed that it would last only for a couple of weeks," he said, in an office room stocked with blankets and warm sweatshirts. "So a lot of Syrian Armenians moved to Armenia with summer clothes and they didn’t bring with them winter clothes. A lot of people didn’t bring enough finances to sustain themselves in the long run."

    At Yerevan’s Anteb restaurant, Sarkis Rshdouni, a foreign currency trader, said that many fellow Syrian Armenians have had a hard time getting good jobs in Armenia, a small, isolated country with high unemployment.

    Syria RefugeesSyria Refugees
    x
    Syria Refugees
    Syria Refugees
    1915 massacre still casts a shadow

    Like many, Rshdouni worries about the fate of Christians if Muslim radicals take power in Syria.

    "The Christians, let’s say, don’t trust the politics of each country they live in, but they trust the Arabs, the regular Arabs - the citizens," he said. "They don’t feel stable.  The countries that they’re living in, in the Middle East, it’s not stable."

    Driving Armenian insecurity is the collective memory of the 1915 genocide. Almost one century ago, Ottoman Turks killed 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey - about three-quarters of the local population. For VIP visitors to Yerevan, it is obligatory to visit the capital’s hilltop Armenian Genocide Museum and Institute.

    One legacy of the genocide, said Richard Giragosian, a think tank director, is that Armenians in the Middle East are a people primed to get up and go. After Gamal Abdel Nasser rose to power in Egypt in 1952, Armenians felt threatened by his socialist policies.

    "Then they left," said Giragosian, who directs the Regional Studies Center here. "Then it was Beirut, then the [Lebanese] civil war. Then it was Tehran. They left in 1979 in large numbers. So there is a natural dynamic trend for change in what is called the Armenian diaspora. So the Armenian position in the Middle East has never been static or stable."
     
    For the young Syrian Armenians, a new generation of Armenia’s diaspora, their passport to the future is flexibility. In the halls of School No. 114, they talk of going to college in America, of going home to Aleppo - or of making their future here in Armenia.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, here's what the history of take-out food tells us about changes in American society

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: ALİ from: TURKEY
    March 08, 2013 4:05 AM
    Syria’s Armenians Return to Their Ancestral Homeland , they did the same thing in the 1 st world war.When they are in difficulty they escape the land they live instead of fighting enemy.GOD DAMN WHO ESCAPES FROM THE LAND THEY LİVE İNSTEAD OF DEFENDİNG İT.

    by: ALİ from: TURKEY
    March 08, 2013 3:56 AM
    armenian has the population of 2,5 million in 2013.How is it possible 1,5 million armanians may have been killed.Is this lie logical to you.?This lie can be either make-up or intentional.You are all Christian and support each other.
    In Response

    by: Mark from: Canada
    March 17, 2013 1:34 PM
    Armenia may have a pop of 2.5 mil but you're forgetting the diaspora especially in America. The total Armenian pop today is somewhere around 10 mil. So I think you have a point, besides, with all the archeological work across Turkey you'd think if 1.5 mil ppl were killed, there would be lots and lots of mass-graves, and not a single one has been found. What bothers me more is that Armenia refuses to accept Turkey's offer to investigate the events of WW1, if they have evidence supporting their claims, why don't they show it?

    The media here is completely subjective however and it has become the norm to accept the ''Armenian Genocide'' without providing any support or evidence but just by repeatedly stating it.
    In Response

    by: Sarkis Balkhian from: Armenia
    March 14, 2013 10:34 PM
    Dear AL from Turkey,
    If you check Turkey’s archives, or whatever is left of it, you would realize that around 3 million Armenians lived within the Ottoman Empire prior to World War I (2.5 million within the borders of modern day Turkey). Ottoman Empire did not include modern day Armenia, because modern day Armenia was actually part of the Tsarist Russian Empire (Check a history book and a map in case you are ignorant).

    In response to your comments regarding, “leaving their land Syria instead of defending it”… For your information 35,000 Syrian-Armenians out of the initial 60,000 remain within Syria… and no one would have been obliged to defend their land if your honor-less government had not opened a rout for fundamentalist Islamist, Jihadists, Al-Qaeda affiliated organizations, consisted from outlaws and terrorists gathered from Afghanistan, Chechnya, Libya, Saudi and Turkey, to enter the country and threaten the democratically charged revolution in Syria…

    At the beginning of the conflict in Syria, it was purely a Revolution seeking to restore human rights, democracy and political plurality. In the middle of the conflict, it turned into oppression by the regime and a rebellion by the Syrian people, as for now, it is a full-scale war waged by 60,000 (non-Syrian citizen terrorists, financed by the least democratic state on earth; Saudi Arabia) outlaws, aided by local mobs, with the participation of some noble Syrians seeking true democracy (something you wouldn’t know cause you live in Turkey’s Article 301 environment) VS A regime which has been undemocratic in many ways for the last 42 years; A regime which has been a symbol of pan-Arab struggle against Israel and the Western World; A Regime which is guilty of shedding the blood of thousands of its own citizens during this conflict; and A regime that is left in the predicament of maintaining its struggle for order and security or ceding its position and putting the entire fate of the country in the hands of Jihadists and Wahhabists…

    Sincerely yours,
    Sarkis Balkhian

    Ps. Before you start making more of a fool of yourself, at the bear minimum, please research the history of the Middle East and Arab states since the Sykes Picot Agreement, and the history of Armenians in Anatolia for the last 2000 years...
    :D

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora