Breath of Syrian-Armenian culture, and not only that…

In light of the Tyarndarach church holiday and Saint Sargis Day, the RA Ministry of Diaspora organized the “Breath of Syrian-Armenian Culture in Yerevan” charity fairs at Hakob Paronyan State Musical Comedy Theater and Lovers’ park in Yerevan.

One could feel the breath of the Syrian-Armenians not only in their hand-made works, but also in their speeches that were sometimes sad, yet also instilled hope. They are people who have left their homes, stores or studios, have locked the “door of the past” and have come to the homeland with hope and aspirations. They are different in terms of their preferences, occupations and history, but at the same time, they are alike. They have all come to the homeland with hope, aspiration and the awareness of starting over. Let’s get to know some of them:

Anoush Berberian has been living in Armenia for a year and a half. She has been preparing pastry and different types of meals for about a year now. “We mainly take orders. We have participated in the fairs organized by the Ministry of Diaspora several times and have started becoming popular,” Anoush says.

Ani Archinian-Gavafian makes beads with a penture (draw on the material, burn it and paint-ed.). Although she says her works are beautiful, she feels bad that such works aren’t appreciated in Armenia, while they were in high demand in Aleppo. “We would take orders and prepare dowries for future brides. In Armenia tourists are our main buyers. In the summer, I work at the Vernisazh. Our life here is very different, but we have no other choice. We have to adapt. The road ahead is dark and we don’t know what will happen in the end.”

Different kinds of compositions, flowers and accessories made from balloons and in different colors were seen as one walked by the pavilions, and they were made by Vartan Mouradian, who arrived in Armenia just a month ago. “Before coming to Armenia, I had been living in Lebanon for a year. I was working at a balloon designing company and gained experience. I had planned to come to Armenia, but wanted to become a specialist and then move here.”

Vardan is just getting to know the city since he’s visiting Armenia for the first time. He’s also participating in such an exhibition for the first time. “I want to show my works and hope everything will turn out great. I design balloons in Armenia, but people here don’t have an idea of what I do. I make different compositions from balloons and can even make clothes, if anyone requests. I have to start from scratch here, but I hope everything will be fine. I would simply like to have some help from the Ministry of Diaspora and other state bodies so that I can present better ideas and better things.”

Whereas Vardan has just started specializing, silversmith Vasken Arejian has been specializing as a silversmith for the past 30 years already. He had a store and studio in Aleppo, but he left everything and came to Armenia. “I’ve been living in Armenia for a year and a half now. I don’t have a stable job. I work with a friend of mine here. Armenia’s market is small and products don’t sell. I don’t blame the Armenian government or the people. I’m thankful to everyone. The people don’t earn much, and you can’t demand much from people who don’t earn much. Tourists mainly buy our products. If there are a lot of tourists, business is good.

One of my friends has opened a store at Amiryan 27, and I showcase my works there.

There used to be 5-6 million people in Aleppo, and our products were in high demand. But in Armenia there are more craftsmen than the demand. There are hundreds of sellers at the Vernisazh, and each of them has a family. We came here, stood next to them and “stole” a little of what they had.

A craftsman can show his taste, not insist on it. The customer has to like what he wants and choose. This is the law in commerce. But since there was a high demand in Aleppo, we were the ones telling everyone what taste meant. There was especially high demand for appliances. I would also like to make things here, but if there is no demand, there is no sense in doing it.”

Whereas before making works by hand was a way of spending free time for many Syrian-Armenian women, now they are trying to take care of their families’ expenses with that. Rosette Tutundjian-Nazarian makes scarves with natural stones, bijouterie and necklaces with beads. She’s participating in this charity fair for the third time. “We’re trying to continue our lives here. I’m very thankful to the Ministry of Diaspora for providing us with the opportunity to showcase our products.

I’ll be going back to Syria this month. I have some things to take care of before I come back and settle down here. My son is getting married, and I’ll be bringing my daughter-in-law here.

I would do this in Syria as well. I worked with designers, but it was only on my free time.

But this is not enough to earn a living in Armenia. We have to have a stable job. We have to do something that will help us continue living here. In Syria, a person could work and take care of the family on his own. Here all members of the family have to work so that they can earn a living. In that sense, it’s a little hard, but I’m very happy to be here and don’t want to go back.”

It’s especially hard for those who are compelled to forget, at least for a while, their preferences and to find something else to do in order to help their families at an older age. In this sense, Mayda Boshkezenian’s story is interesting and a little sad. “I’ve been living in Armenia for the past two years. What “encourages” us is the pastry. Perhaps the local Armenians liked the Syrian-Armenians’ spices, and we take advantage of that. We’re participating in the charity fair for the second time. People liked it, were very satisfied and started giving us orders.

We’ve already decided to settle and we have to work in order to survive. In Aleppo I was a dentist’s assistant and an actress. I would also sing. Here my life changed completely, but I’ve already adapted.”

Mayda has made attempts to work by her profession, but “it wasn’t encouraging, the salaries were low. We pay rent, and the money is just not enough. That’s why we try to do something that is relatively profitable.

I haven’t forgotten my preferences. I sometimes participate in theatrical events or fairy-tale festivals at the Home-Museum of Hovhannes Tumanyan.

I played at the Hamazkayin Theater and the AGBU Adamyan Theater Company in Aleppo. I’ve worked with many directors in Armenia, including Nikolay Tsaturyan, Ara Yernjakyan, Artashes Hovhannisyan, Hasmik Ter-Karapetyan and Narine Malyan.

We lived a different life there. We were doing it as amateurs and were doing it to preserve Armenian culture and the arts.

We’re slowly getting used to the traditions here. When you live somewhere, you have to adapt. It helps to be surrounded by good people. Thank God, I’m surrounded by great people. My acquaintances in Aleppo help me adapt.

For instance, one of those acquaintances is Garnik Seyranyan, who worked as a director with the Hamazkayin Theater Company in Aleppo. He and others helped me a lot in Yerevan, and I’ll never forget their good deeds. I thank all of them.

I’m happy to see that there are still great people in Armenia who do their best to help the Armenians from Aleppo and encourage them to stay here. I take pride in being surrounded by such people.”

These people and thousands of Syrian-Armenians like them are trying to settle in Armenia, work and open a new door that we hope they will never close. For that, they need support from all of us…

Lusine Abrahamyan 

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