Syria: Love in the Time of War

Special for the Armenian Weekly

Two years ago, Ani’s husband committed suicide, leaving behind a 3-year-old son and a 32-year old widow to endure the horrors of Syria on their own. To support her son, Ani started working as a saleswoman. But as the situation in Aleppo disintegrated, she was laid off and forced to survive on her husband’s savings.

"City of love in a time of war," a painting by Syrian artist Wissam Al Jazairy
“City of love in a time of war,” a painting by Syrian artist Wissam Al Jazairy

Enduring the grotesque environment of Syria for two years was enough. Ani and her family moved to Lebanon with the hope that the conflict would soon subside and they would return back home.

In December 2013, Ani was ecstatic to have been allocated a cheap room in a shelter home administered by Catholic nuns. “My fortunes are changing,” she thought.

A few weeks later, she discovered that her son, Hagop, had developed a medical condition that required surgery. “I do not have the $2,700 needed for the operation,” she told me. “I spoke to the doctors and they informed me that the only way to secure a free of charge surgery is to bring medical documents from Syria. I have to go back!”

On Jan. 19, as politicians were convening in Montreux, Switzerland, to further demonstrate their diplomatic impotence at the Geneva II Conference on Syria, Ani was traveling back to Aleppo. Along the journey, she gazed upon a dozen corpses and hundreds of buildings that had turned into ruins. “Is my house still around,” she wondered.

Upon her return to Beirut, Ani had retrieved Hagop’s documents, but in the process had a near-death experience that would alter the course of her life forever. “If I had taken one more step, the bullet would have ripped open my skull,” she said. “I realized then, that Syria, my house, my properties have no value. The only thing that matters in this world is my son and his future.”

As she was leaving Aleppo, Ani brought with her all of the cash and jewelry she could gather. “I will run as far away from Syria as possible,” she said. “My son, my mother, and I will start a new life far away from this hell. I will never go back to Syria.”

The same week that Ani left Syria for the last time, Shaghig made the opposite journey back to Aleppo.

In April 2010, Shaghig was reciting a poem dedicated to the Armenian Genocide. Her recital was resounding and her stage presence was illuminating. Everyone at Aleppo’s Zvartnots Church Hall was mesmerized by her performance. Back then, she was a member of the AYF in Aleppo and a student of biotechnical engineering at the state university.

In 2012, her family fled the conflict in Aleppo and moved to the United States. Her father became a senior fellow at a highly reputable institute, while her mother was appointed to the regional director position of a women’s rights organization.

While living in a Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City, Shaghig completed her master’s degree in molecular biology. After graduation, she had everything one could hope for—money, education, connections, and a wealth of possibilities. But instead of pursuing the American Dream, Shaghig chose the Syrian nightmare.

In February 2014, she deserted the city that never sleeps, where blackouts are instantly associated with terrorism, and moved back to the hub of global jihad—Aleppo —a place where electricity and water are rare commodities these days.

Over the past several years, jihadists from across the globe have arrived in Syria to spread their perverted fatwas via destruction and annihilation. In February, when Shaghig returned to Aleppo, she had a fatwa of her own: the fatwa of love.

She had met Antranig during AYF meetings in Aleppo. Initially, they were Ungers, but in time, the relationship evolved into a love affair.

Due to financial limitations and commitments to his family, Antranig was unable to leave Syria to seek a new life with Shaghig elsewhere. The only place where the couple could reunite was this, the ghost city of Aleppo. After returning to Syria, Shaghig began working at a medical institution and got engaged to Antranig.

Freedom!

Ani’s love for her son and Shaghig’s love for her fiancé led them in opposite directions—in and out of Syria. But along their journey, they attained something that most Syrians have sought for a very long time: freedom.

In Syria, freedom is often associated with a change in the government, but a true form of freedom is only attained through the liberation of the mind from the shackles of fear.

In Ani’s case, her love for her son Hagop forced her to overcome her fear of the unknown world that awaited her outside of Syria. This prompted her to leave behind an entire lifetime of memories, friends, and family to pursue a safe haven far away from the satanic environment of Aleppo.
On the other hand, Shaghig’s love for her fiancé helped her overcome the fear of death and destruction, now common features of life in Syria.

 

The names of individuals have been changed to protect their identities.

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Sarkis Balkhian

Sarkis Balkhian is a contrarian, political, and human rights activist focusing on the Middle East and the South Caucasus regions. He is the advocacy director of the Aleppo Compatriotic Charitable Organization, a group supporting Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. Balkhian holds a B.A in government and international relations from Clark University and an M.A. in diplomacy and international relations from Yerevan State University. He is based in Yerevan.

9 Comments

  1. Let’s hope it was only love that motivated her to return to Syria. Syrian Armenians must come to terms that Syria is not their homeland. It is only a transitory place for the Armenians. After 100 years, it is time to move forward and repopulate Armenia, the true homeland.

    • Shat chisht es Hratch. We all have to come to terms with our Diasporan life. It is our Transit but truly we have to move forward & move to Motherland our only homeland as it is becoming empty.SAD

  2. What a beautiful story. May God give them strength to survive these difficult times and may they be reunited with their loved ones and live a happier life!

  3. I was born in Iran, & that country is for Iranians, as is Syria for Syrians. And we Armenians belong to Armenia – I have never returned to Iran since 1968 but I always go to Armenia every year & hoping I will die there too

  4. This is indeed a great Armenian love story. Wish both of these girls well and happy life. And yes, we should all go back to Hayastan. Ask the jews where they feel truly at home.

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