Response to Barsoumian’s ‘Ending the Era of Orphanages in Armenia’

Dear Editor,

Ms. Barsoumian’s article, “Ending the Era of Orphanages in Armenia,” offers a curious alternative—foster care—to managing the orphaned population in Armenia. While the idea of foster care is beneficial in theory, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that foster care in Armenia would provide any advantages over the current orphanage system. Moreover, the short- and long-term problems are so potentially crippling that the foster care proposal does not even merit serious discussion.

To begin, orphanages in Armenia are not part of some bygone “era.” The significance of orphanages in Armenia trace back to the 1915 Armenian Genocide, where hundreds of thousands of children found peace and security in these safe havens. During the genocide, a large “Orphan City” was established in Alexandrapol (the name of Gyumri at the time), playing a key role in rescuing a generation of children who later contributed to the rebuilding of Armenia during the Soviet period. When the 1988 earthquake destroyed the same city, orphanages again became the means to rescue Armenian children who had been left without a home and parents. The historical and emotional significance of orphanages in modern Armenia, therefore, spans nearly a century.

The problems associated with implementing a foster care system include, but are not limited to, the stigma in Armenia of raising children that are not your own family; poor governmental oversight; economic instability; few placement alternatives should a foster care family choose to relinquish its responsibilities; the emotional trauma associated with movement from orphanages and between foster homes; and the potential circumvention of international laws that protect human trafficking and other crimes against children.

There are currently 16 facilities in Armenia that house orphaned children. Are they perfect institutions? No nationally run system that relies on minimal financial support from the government could possibly address, to absolute perfection, every possible concern of children whose parents are unable or willing to care for them. But, tales of abuse and other malfeasance by orphanage officials are broad generalizations made by self-serving zealots. Ms. Barsoumian’s article fails to highlight, for example, the exemplary work of Sr. Arousiag Sajonian at the Our Lady of Armenia Center in Gyumri, a private facility that houses approximately 80 orphaned children. The center, founded by the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception after the earthquake, has been a Godsend (literally and figuratively) to thousands of Armenian children during the past 25 years.

The solution is not “ending the orphanage era,” but rather expanding the current orphan system to allocate resources for more intensive supervision of the existing facilities and the establishment of housing that facilitates the transition from orphanage adolescence to adulthood. The support for such an endeavor must come not only from the national government (as a way of inspiring young adults and encouraging them to remain in Armenia for school and work), but also from the global diaspora. There are Armenian humanitarian organizations that can help launch and facilitate such a long-term plan. In 2006, the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) ( was created to provide humanitarian relief to orphaned children in Armenia. Today, SOAR has 23 chapters worldwide and has expanded its mission to orphaned Armenian children throughout the world, including Javakhk, Nagorno-Karabagh, and Lebanon. Since its inception, SOAR has provided more than $750,000 in humanitarian assistance to the orphaned Armenian population, with mechanisms designed to assist the children’s short- and long-term needs. Within the past year, for example, SOAR has funded the construction and furnishing of computer labs in 12 orphanages, stressing the need for academic development. In addition, SOAR’s Child Sponsorship Program provides child-specific funds for tuition (or a savings account for future tuition), educational books and supplies, musical tutoring, medical care, and other items for the child’s personal growth.

SOAR not only assists with short-term needs, but also helps to prepare the children for life post-orphanage. The development of transitional housing is critical to this continuum of care. Such housing would ideally be a private facility where adolescents could transition from orphanage life to full-time school and/or employment. Whether such a facility comes to fruition depends on the generosity of those who realize that orphaned children represent the most vulnerable population of Armenian society.

Advocates of a foster-care approach are reflexively advocating for such a system in reaction to the hysterical rants of people who are unfamiliar with the successes that have emerged from Armenia’s orphanages. Pointing to isolated incidents as grounds for dissolving a historically successful and important institution is dangerous. A more careful approach is warranted, grounded in objective evidence, to best identify a system that will provide orphaned Armenian children with those advantages to which they are entitled.

George S. Yacoubian, Jr., Ph.D., LL.M.
National SOAR President

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.


  1. Dear Dr. Yakouian
    Unfortunately, the majority of children in Armenia in orphanages have at least one living parent. Taking a child out of a home environment and into an institution is a terrible solution. Instead of expanding orphanges, we should look into options to reduce the urge (sometimes financial and sometimes based on parental mindsets not belonging to our times (giving up a child simply because the child is albino for instance)) for families to give their children up. This would be a more sustainable approach that will benefit the nation as a whole, rather than building more drab institutions run by corrupt officials (fully understand that corruption is not limited to orphanages, as it is a widespread issue in Armenia).
    The family unit in Armenia is under assault, where a large number of families do not have a father figure present. We are raising boys who do not have a role model to follow. This is a significant issue that will affect the fabric of the society adversely in the years to come.
    we have widespread domestic abuse in Armenia that is a national shame and a real problem affecting children growing up in such families.
    We need to address these issues at the core and not simply remove a child from their home and placing them in an institution.
    I understand your position, but calling voices of dissent hysterical and zealots does not leave much room for dialogue and improvement on such an important issue, as I am confident that you strive for the best for these children, their families and our nation.

  2. Dear Dr. Yakoubian
    On a follow up note, it is totally inappropriate to correlate the situation in Armenia now vis a vis the existence of orphanages with the period right after the genocide.
    Orphanages then served a real purpose of housing thousands of survivor children who had no where to go and no one to turn to.

  3. Ara you are absolutely correct in your correction of Mr. Yacoubian’s weak analsis of the current situation in Armenia’s orphanages. It is interesting to note that Mr. Yacoubian’s private law firm benefits from “counseling” for parents interested in adopting in Armenia.

    The X mas presents, medical supplies, toys for Summer Camp, and other gifts for orphans is just duplications of what many of our churches have done for years. This is not addressing the root of the problem as Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), World Vision, FAR, ARS, etc., have done. Creating sustainability and jobs for the families and giving the children hope for their future.

    What kind of message are we putting out to families in need of work, that parking your child at an orphanage is the only way your child will be fed, get medical attention, etc., Not to mention I am told some of the orphanages receive up to $7,000 per child per year. We have not provided or supported the groundwork for their future merely masking the current issue.

    We have second generation of children being put into orphanages because that is where their parents grew up. This is unacceptable. Adoption is not the answer it is more skirting of the REAL issues that surround Armenia’s economy and education system.

    It would be interesting to understand why Mr. Yacoubian felt adopting an infant from Armenia was helping the future of the children and supporting the families to lift themselves out of the cycle. Wasn’t the older orphaned children of interest to him? While Mr. Yacoubian’s heart might be in the right place, his plans have serious flaws in them.

    One would think he should be working for a society that doesn’t need orphanages to raise their children. Supporting this system is like feeding an ugly monster – trying putting sustainable projects together so Armenian families can stay united.

  4. Let’s be clear about the above 2 posts, given that both want “accuracy.”

    1) My law firm and SOAR benefit in NO way from the adoption process in Armenia. I have given adoption advice to literally hundreds of people since 2006 (before I went into private practice), solely as a courtesy. I charge nothing. I consider it an obligation and a privilege to give advice on the adoption process in Armenia.

    2) Have you really sunk so low as to ask me why my wife and I adopted a child?

    3) Please explain how a foster care system in ANY way promotes familial reunification.

    I agree that, in a perfect world, there should never be a scenario where children must be given up for adoption. Certainly, if you think an organization to address that need is warranted, create one. But SOAR was created as a way for my wife and I to give back to the country that gave us our oldest daughter. That you have trivialized that process demonstrates not only a complete misunderstanding of adoption, but also a shallow and insulting attempt to confuse the issues.

  5. There is one very important issue that has not been made clear here. When you donate to SOAR, every single penny is directed to the care of our orphaned children; absolutely none of it is filtered through the government. No oligarch will ever get fatter on your donation. We need more organizations in Armenia like SOAR that bypass government pockets and go directly to the source of need.

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