Syrian-Armenian benefactor/doctor Johnny Hatdat: “The important thing is for us to be on top of the mountain”

Johnny Hatdat…Syrian-Armenian doctor, author of several scientific works, benefactor…Of course, these are the attributes that stress one’s individuality, but benevolence lies within the soul of each of the creations of God…Preserving those attributes, Dr. Johnny Hatdat has performed several surgeries for free in Armenia, Artsakh and has been carrying out this charity act without expecting any award or certificate, though he definitely deserves an award for having performed about 5,200 surgeries for free. As president of the Armenian Christian Medical Association (ACMA), he started carrying out charity acts with 2 people. Later, he hired new doctors and nurses, and they all became one family.

Hayern Aysor: Dr. Hatdat, when did you start performing surgeries for free?

Dr. Hatdat: I started visiting Armenia and performing surgeries in 2000. I visit twice a year. I started performing surgeries at the hospital in the Malatia district. Later, I started touring all the provinces. I would perform surgeries at the central hospital in Gyumri. Before that, I was working at the Austrian Hospital. These days we have performed surgeries at the Surp Grigor Lusavorich Hospital of Yerevan and will continue until my departure. We have also performed surgeries at the hospital in Shushi, Artsakh. Besides surgeries, we also perform checkups for the patients. This year, to this day, we have checked 909 patients in the Lori, Shirak, Kotayk and Armavir Provinces, as well as in Ararat, Yerevan and Artsakh. During this visit, we performed 30 surgeries in Gyumri, 45 in Artsakh, and we started performing surgeries at the Surp Grigor Lusavorich Hospital yesterday. We have performed 15 surgeries in one day. I have good assistants and a wonderful team of doctors and nurses. I mainly perform surgeries for the goiter, the hernia, gallbladder, cancer and hemorrhoids, but I specifically specialize in the surgeries for goiters and cancers.

Hayern Aysor: Dr. Hatdat, where did you study to become a professional and undergo training?

Dr. Hatdat: I graduated from school in Kuwait and went on to continue my studies at Damascus Medical University, after which I received my surgical education in the United Kingdom.

Hayern Aysor: How did you start carrying out charity acts? Did anyone guide you?

Dr. Hatdat: My first visit to Armenia was on the sixth day following the 1988 earthquake. I brought three Kuwaiti planes carrying medical equipment and some medicine. At the time, Armenia needed medical equipment more than anything else. It was very important to have a device for hemodialysis. There were no laparoscopic devices. I brought all that, but unfortunately, Armenian doctors didn’t use them. Instead, they sold them to foreigners. Now I will explain how and why I started carrying out charity acts. In 1976, I had a vision to serve Armenia. It appeared to me when I was a student, and I urged all my Armenian friends to come and serve Armenia. Of course, some accepted it, others didn’t. I graduated, moved to Aleppo in 1990 and have been living there ever since. In 2000, in Armenia I met many people and told them about my vision. They greeted and accepted me and we started carrying out charity acts as a group of three. In 2006, I founded the Armenian Christian Medical Association (ACMA). Currently, I have over 206 employees who all work on voluntary basis. We visit other cities, villages and provinces o Armenia with 15 to 20 people. We visited Artsak with 8 people since there were problems with accommodations. We also took a group of dentists who worked with 65 patients, and we performed 45 surgeries in Shushi. We spent five days and four nights and provided major medical services. Next Monday I will be returning to Aleppo where I also have patients waiting for me to perform surgeries.

Hayern Aysor: So, you have no time to rest.

Dr. Hatdat: I don’t think about resting at all. I don’t even have time to rest in Aleppo. After all, Aleppo is in a state of war. Homes, districts, factories, stores and schools have been damaged, and many people were either killed or wounded. We dig wells, take care of the widows of men who have died and students, and we opened a polyclinic…We also provide food to the people.

Hayern Aysor: Your charity is the surgeries that you provide free-of-charge. In any case, is there any organization that sponsors you?

Dr. Hatdat: The Barnabas Foundation sponsors and supports us, especially in Aleppo. The mission of the ACMA is mainly to help the Syrian-Armenians who have moved from Syria to Armenia. Churches also help us, and our organization is popular in Armenia. My daughter, Petia also works with me. She is my right hand. Petia is a microsurgeon, and my son-in-law is a computer expert. Barnabas helps us provide medical services in Aleppo and give the people food. In Armenia, I perform surgeries free-of-charge.

Hayern Aysor: Dr. Hatdat, don’t you get tired? Don’t you regret taking on such a heavy burden on your shoulders? Hasn’t anyone every stood in your way or created obstacles? After all, you have a large flow of patients who receive treatment for free.

Dr. Hatdat: I don’t get tired or regret at all. The important thing is for us to be on top of the mountain. In that case, the big issues will seem small. They say I came and stole their patients from them. I don’t care. I am guided by my conscience.

Hayern Aysor: Which disease is more common among your patients?

Dr. Hatdat: There are many people who have a problem with the goiter. It is mainly common among people who live in mountainous areas where there is no sea or ocean. The disease is also caused by the lack of iodine in drinking water.

Hayern Aysor: Aren’t you afraid of living in Aleppo during the current state of war?

Dr. Hatdat: If we don’t live there, who will? Our people need the help of doctors. Out of the 72,000 Armenians, only 8,000 have remained in Aleppo. Many good surgeons have left Syria. Who will stay in Aleppo, if everyone leaves? In 1923, Armenians made up 40% of Aleppo’s population, while Christians made up 60% in total. Now the picture is different. The locals of Aleppo have learned a lot from the Armenians who migrated from Western Armenia. Many Muslims even say the Armenians are the salt of Aleppo and ask us not to leave them alone.

Hayern Aysor: What is the story behind your non-Armenian last name?

Dr. Hatdat: My grandfather was from Diyarbakir. After migrating, he was told that he would either have to be named Demirchi or Hatdat (in both cases, the word means blacksmith, the first is in Turkish and the other is in Arabic). My grandfather preferred the Arabic version. That is the storybehind my last name. I have seen many wars, including the 1973 war between Syria and Israel, the Iraq War in the 1990s, the war in the 2000s and now the Syrian war. To this day, I have served in 15 countries. I travel to Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt, Iran, Turkey and the Middle East, wherever people need my help.

Hayern Aysor: Johnny Hatdat’s daughter, Petia Hatdat joined our conversation. She received her medical education in Syria for three years and continued her studies in Yerevan. Currently, she is pursuing her studies in the ordinatory department at the N 1 Clinic in Yerevan and specializes in microsurgery with the famous microsurgeon Artavazd Sahakyan. Petia is following in her father’s footsteps and considers helping people the mission of a Christian. Tamara Bakunts and Roza Tchngryan, who are the benevolent doctor’s patients who have just undergone surgeries, talked about Dr. Hatdat. One of the patients underwent a hernia surgery, and the other underwent a gallbladder surgery. “I had a painful hernia in the right side of my groin. I couldn’t move my leg and couldn’t afford a surgery. I am very content with Dr. Johnny and his staff. I asked for a pass from three polyclinics and barely received one so that I wouldn’t lose my turn, but this wonderful man did it for free. The doctor’s hometown is in ruins, and people are dying every day, perhaps his relatives too, but he comes and performs free surgeries in Armenia. I am very grateful to him. May peace be established in his hometown! I wish Dr. Johnny a very long and healthy life. May God give him longevity!” Tamara Bakunts said. “The doctor performed a surgery for my gallbladder. If he hadn’t come and performed the surgery, I wouldn’t be able to relieve myself of the horrible pain. I am very grateful to this kind man. May God give him what he wants for helping patients and lending a helping hand! He is a right Christian,” Roza Tchngryan says.

I bid farewell to Johnny Hatdat the right Christian when he rushed to the operation room without resting after our only 20-minute interview. He was so energetic, peaceful and smiling that it seemed as though he wasn’t the one performing one surgery after another throughout the whole day.

Karine Avagyan

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