$2 Million Collected by Syrian Armenian Relief Fund
Raffi Kendirjian, Vice Chairperson of the Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF), arrived in Yerevan from Los Angeles several days ago. Hetq spoke with him about the plight of Syrian-Armenians and the Fund’s activities.
SARF, founded four years ago, provides financial assistance to Syrian-Armenians who are victims of the civil war raging in Syria. Donations are solicited through the Armenian community in Western United States, and the network of churches, political parties and charity organizations, which operate in the region.
Mr. Kendirjian says that more than US$2 million has been collected and sent to SyriaShdab, a NGO established by Armenian churches and charitable organizations in Syria that operates out of Aleppo. This organization then dispenses the money as deemed necessary by local bodies.
Where has the $2 million gone?
Mr. Kendirjian says that the money is spent in four sectors. Some of the donations goes to assisting the four or five Armenian schools still operating in Aleppo. Before the war, the number of Armenian schools was around ten. He says that there are currently 2,000-3,000 students attending Armenian schools in Aleppo. The assistance pays tuition and teacher salaries. Mr. Kendirjian is quick to point out that the numbers of schools and students are approximations; no precise data is available given daily fluctuations.
Money also goes to medically treat those injured due to the fighting. Mr. Kendirjian says that the number of Armenian doctors in Aleppo has dropped. If families cannot pay funeral expenses for relatives killed in the war, the fund will pay.
Donations are also spent on essential housing repairs and nutritional needs.
When asked about funding the relocation of Armenians from Syria, Mr. Kendirjian says that this issue isn’t included in the SARF purview, but given the constant developments on the ground in Aleppo, a policy change is possible.
While Armenians currently living in Syria have been the primary recipient of assistance, SARF has also teamed with Armenian Redwood Project and OXFAM to provide housing rental subsidy to Syrian-Armenian refugees who have fled to Armenia. Mr. Kendirjian says that for one year now they have been paying 50% of the rent for those who have relocated to Armenia. He said he couldn’t remember the exact number of those receiving such assistance.
“There are ten million Armenians throughout the world. Wherever Armenians face a crisis, we have come to their aid as Armenians. And I am not talking about the Armenians of Los Angeles, or the Persian-Armenians, Lebanese-Armenians or Canadian-Armenians. These are our sisters and brothers. Our assistance must increase substantially,” Mr. Kendirjian says, adding that they cannot go and fight in Aleppo or send containers of food. The only assistance they can offer is money.
More than 20,000 Syrian-Armenians have moved to Armenia
Hetq sent questions to Armenia’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. The following answers were submitted by Firdus Zakaryan, the ministry’s chief of staff.
What steps has the ministry taken to relocate Aleppo Armenians to Armenia or other countries?
From the outset of the civil war in Syria, the government of Armenia adopted a position to assist Syrian-Armenians, both in Armenia and in Syria. The ministry is in daily contact with the Armenian Embassy in Damascus, the Armenian Consulate in Aleppo, and Armenian community authorities in Syria to be apprised of the needs of our compatriots and to take measures when necessary. The relocation of Armenians from Syria isn’t being implemented on a mass scale given that security cannot be guaranteed.
Over the past few years, more than 20,000 Syrian-Armenians have arrived in Armenia. The ministry daily, in cooperation with state bodies, international agencies, the UNHCR, individual benefactors and charitable organizations, deals with their educational, social, medical and housing issues.
In 2016, prior to September 30, 428 Armenians from Syria arrived in Armenia. 68 arrived in October.
Have you received any requests from Armenians in Syria who want to move to Armenia? If so, how many and what is their status?
Until recently, Armenians in Syria would file requests with the Armenian Consulate in Aleppo for entry permits to Armenia, and not with the ministry. After the September 30 shelling of Aleppo, the ministry received official requests from two families who wish to relocate to Armenia. Their requests are being processed. The ministry received the requests via Armenia’s embassy in Damascus and consulate in Aleppo.
How many Aleppo Armenians have arrived in Armenia since 2015? How many have filed assistance requests with the ministry?
Since January 2015 to date, some 1,250 Syrian-Armenians have arrived in Armenia. The relocation is coordinated by community organizations in Syria, by the Armenian embassy and consulate there, by the ministry, individual benefactors and charitable groups. There are several organization in the diaspora actively working on the issue.
What data do you have as to the number of Armenians left in Aleppo?
Per the leadership of the Armenian community and the consulate, there are 12,000-15,000 Armenians in the city.
How many of the Syrian-Armenians that have moved to Armenia has the ministry found work for?
During 2012-2015, 3,500 Syrian-Armenians filed petitions for employment with the ministry. In cooperation with the State Employment Service and 200 organization in Armenia, 2,500 were given jobs. The Small and Medium Entrepreneurship Development National Center has also organized training for 500 Syrian-Armenians regarding local tax and customs regulations.
Do you know how many Syrian-Armenians have left Armenia for other countries?
Precise data is hard to come by. Some leave Armenia, and others return. Recently, the tendency of Syrian-Armenians to move to Sweden and Canada from Armenia has subsided.
Top photo: Aleppo shelling (AFP/Getty Images)