‘From the People to the People’: In Syria, ARS Remains Faithful to Mission

An Interview with ARS Eastern USA Chair Talin Daghlian

At the very beginning of the war in Syria more than four years ago, the ARS committed to providing unconditional support to Syria’s Armenian population and initiated various relief efforts and humanitarian projects through its worldwide chapters. The ARS Eastern United States has been instrumental in this worldwide effort. Earlier this month, the ARS Eastern USA appealed to the public to join its efforts in supporting Armenian families in Syria. “There are hundreds of Armenian families with small children who remain trapped in the conflict zone with limited or no resources. Your support will help us provide families assistance during this critical time. The need is enormous and our resources are stretched thin,” read the statement. The Armenian Weekly recently spoke to ARS Eastern USA chair Talin Daghlian to get a better understanding of the various programs the Eastern U.S. has launched in conjunction with the ARS of Syria, as well as the next steps in providing relief to this war-torn community.

At the very beginning of the war in Syria more than four years ago, the ARS committed to providing unconditional support to Syria’s Armenian population and initiated various relief efforts and humanitarian projects through its worldwide chapters (Photo: Studio Venus)
At the very beginning of the war in Syria more than four years ago, the ARS committed to providing unconditional support to Syria’s Armenian population and initiated various relief efforts and humanitarian projects through its worldwide chapters (Photo: Studio Venus)

“Today, despite the grave conditions, our members are doing whatever possible to assist our needy families in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria,” Daghlian explained. “The conflict in Syria is now over four years old, and many parts of the country and their inhabitants are hardly recognizable. This is especially true in the war-torn city of Aleppo. The community has endured extremely difficult circumstances and everything has changed as a result. Aleppo has become a very difficult and dangerous place to live. While those living in Aleppo before the war were comfortable in a secure community, today they mostly live in fear.”

Daghlian also used the opportunity to appeal to the public to join the ARS’s efforts in supporting families in Syria. “We call on all Armenians to stand by us and help our brothers and sisters in Syria get through these difficult times,” said Daghlian, who urged each member of the community to “be a hero and help these needy families.”

The ARS Eastern USA recently launched the “Sponsor a Syrian-Armenian Family” program to help assist Syrian-Armenian families in need. The program calls for donations of any amount to distribute basic needs like food, water, safe shelter, baby formula, clothing, and utilities. The program will work alongside the already existing “Hot Meal” and “Warm Home” programs run by the ARS.

Last week, a delegation representing leading Armenian-American organizations met with senior State Department officials to seek workable solutions to existing gaps in the delivery of U.S. and international aid to those affected by the conflict. Speaking on behalf of Armenian Americans, and reflecting the sense of urgency among Armenians worldwide, the delegation, which included Daghlian, stressed the need for U.S. policymakers to ensure the delivery of aid to at-risk Armenians in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, to provide humanitarian and housing support for Armenian refugees in Lebanon, and to leverage bilateral and international assistance to help those in Armenia transition toward self-sufficient citizenship in their homeland.

Below is the interview in its entirety.

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Rupen Janbazian: Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the Armenian Relief Society of Eastern USA has been working with the ARS of Syria on the ground to provide much-needed humanitarian relief to the needy. What kind of work has been done so far?

Talin Daghlian: The ARS Eastern USA was one of the first organizations that started its efforts to assist our sisters and brothers in Syria with the help of ARS Inc. and the ARS of Syria. The ARS Eastern USA’s efforts include providing financial assistance to Armenian schools, ARS orphanages, and the ARS Health Care Clinic Center, and partnering with the Rapid Response Unit that was organized shortly after the start of the war.

At the outset of the war, the focus was keeping the Armenian schools open. Hence, all ARS entities worldwide concentrated their efforts on collecting donations to save these schools. When the war escalated and the situation worsened, the ARS “Hot Meal,” “Warm Home,” and “Sponsor a Syrian-Armenian Family” programs were initiated to meet the needs of the Armenian communities in Syria.

Today, despite the grave conditions, our members are doing whatever possible to assist our needy families in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. The ARS “Hot Meal” program provides nutritious meals to over 300 impoverished people. The program began its operations at the ARS Syria Nor Kyugh Center; however, since the summer of 2014, due to extensive damages to the center, the program was moved to the Simon Vratsian Center Karni Hall. Hot meals are now given twice a week to those most in need. Additionally, on a monthly basis, ARS members visit needy families and provide them with food and other necessary items. The ARS of Syria Health Care Clinic was also relocated and continues to provide wellness care services to Armenians and non-Armenians.

When the war escalated and the situation worsened, the ARS "Hot Meal," "Warm Home," and “Sponsor a Syrian-Armenian Family" programs were initiated to meet the needs of the Armenian communities in Syria.
When the war escalated and the situation worsened, the ARS ‘Hot Meal,’ ‘Warm Home,’ and ‘Sponsor a Syrian-Armenian Family’ programs were initiated to meet the needs of the Armenian communities in Syria.

The “Warm Home” project was established in 2013 and provides financial assistance to help families with buying fuel to help them warm their homes during the cold winter days. The ARS Eastern USA’s “Sponsor a Syrian-Armenian Family” program is currently being implemented by the ARS of Syria. The ARS of Syria identifies the needy families and dispenses the funds as they become available. They are also keeping track of who is receiving aid, how much they are receiving, and from which resources.

The demand has been enormous—and resources, limited. After consulting with ARS members in Aleppo, we have decided for the first phase of the program to assist needy families with newborn children.

Additionally, we are continuing on providing financial support to the Armenian schools through our school fund. The ARS of Syria also organizes summer day camps and other activities to help children in these desperate times.

 

R.J.: Based on the information you have received from the local ARS in Aleppo, what is the current situation on the ground? How has community life been affected by the conflict?

T.D.: The conflict in Syria is now over four years old, and many parts of the country and their inhabitants are hardly recognizable. This is especially true in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

The community has endured extremely difficult circumstances and everything has changed as a result. Aleppo has become a very difficult and dangerous place to live. While those living in Aleppo before the war were comfortable in a secure community, today they mostly live in fear.

The danger of shelling and mortar attacks is ever-present. Just in case you briefly forget about them, loud explosions and gunfire from the nearby fronts are there to remind you that the conflict is ongoing. The sounds of explosions are often so constant and so unbearable that people have become restless due to a lack of sleep.

The community has endured extremely difficult circumstances and everything has changed as a result.
‘The community has endured extremely difficult circumstances and everything has changed as a result.’

There is also the danger of being kidnapped. Over the last few months, attacks have escalated in the Armenian-populated areas and life there has been unbearable as a result. People are constantly struggling as electricity, food, running water, and fuel are scarce.

Many families have fled their homes to escape the fighting. Since there is no work, people’s savings have run out and there is no means to feed and care for their families. Some are selling their wedding bands, family heirlooms, and anything they can just to support their families.

What is taking place in Aleppo is truly a humanitarian tragedy. A hundred years after the genocide, the Syrian-Armenian community of genocide descendants—who lived with the memory of the crime our nation faced a century ago—are now facing destruction. Despite all of this, our ungerouhis in Syria are taking heroic measures to continue the ARS mission. They remain committed to continue, and it is our responsibility to assist them.

 

R.J.: Why and how was the idea of the “Sponsor a Syrian Armenian Family” program conceived?

T.D.: During our 93rd regional convention, there was much discourse on the Armenian community’s struggle in Syria. The ongoing war continued and the delegates were well aware that the grave situation would last for years to come. In addition to our already existing projects, which provide families with ongoing support, the ARS Eastern USA wanted to help ease some of the daily struggles of the community there by helping to obtain necessities for living day to day. These necessities include food, water, safe shelter, baby formula, clothing utilities, and so forth.

We figured that through a sponsorship program, we would develop substantial ties between sponsors and the families receiving aid. There are over 2,000 families in Syria which are identified as needy. Our mission is to support them all.

So far, despite our best efforts, we have been only able to assist families with newborn children. A monthly contribution from sponsors will allow us to reach more families in desperate need and help us provide long-term support.

 

R.J.: How will the financial assistance be distributed among the families in need? What are some of the challenges associated with distributing funds?

T.D.: Our members in Syria face major challenges in distributing aid to those in need, especially in areas where fighting makes access to the families difficult. Some families who are in desperate need of assistance are too frightened to go into particular areas until the fighting subsides. Nonetheless, our Syrian counterparts have been doing their best and have been able to provide much-needed aid to those most desperately in need.

Our greatest challenge right now are the limited funds. The reality is that most who remained in Aleppo—especially the elderly—are the most necessitous. The situation is really grim. We constantly receive reports that people lack water and other necessities and that kids are getting sick as a result. Many have no gas or water to cook and no safe shelter. Many families have been forced to live together. Due to all these factors, sickness has increased within an environment of little medication and poor health care.

 

R.J.: How can the public support this initiative?

T.D.: We call on all Armenians to stand by us and help our brothers and sisters in Syria get through these difficult times. We can all make small sacrifices in our budgets to make room for monthly donations. We urge you all to sponsor a family. We also urge you to speak with your family members, friends, and co-workers and ask them to do the same. Support with whatever amount you can. Be a hero and help these needy families.

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To make a donation, please visit http://arseastusa.org/donate or mail checks to the Armenian Relief Society of Eastern USA, Inc., 80 Bigelow Avenue, Suite 200, Watertown, MA 02472. For more information, call (617) 926-3801, fax (617) 924-7238, e-mail arseastus@gmail.com, or visit www.arseastusa.org.

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Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly. His writings primarily focus on politics, human rights, community, literature, and Armenian culture. He has reported from Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), Turkey, Canada, the United States, and Western Armenia. He has served on the local and national executives of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada and Hamazkayin Toronto, and served as the administrator of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Toronto. Janbazian also taught Armenian History and Creative Writing at the ARS Armenian Private School of Toronto, and has worked on several translations.
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