‘Pari Yegak’ – Welcome to Canada


It has been difficult to ignore the overwhelming international coverage of Canada’s acceptance of Syrian refugees over the past couple of weeks. From local and national news outlets in Canada, to New York Times editorials and coverage from around the world, Canada has been receiving praise and admiration for its commitment to provide a safe haven for refugees escaping their war-torn homes.

A young boy boards a bus that took him and other Syrian refugees to the Armenian Community Center of Toronto (Photo: The Globe and Mail)
A young boy boards a bus that took him and other Syrian refugees to the Armenian Community Center of Toronto (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

Although many Syrians have been steadily coming into the country since the beginning of the civil war, the first group of refugees on a Canadian government-sponsored military plane left Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport for Toronto on Thurs., Dec. 10. They were greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn with warm embraces and promises of a better, safer life.

Shortly after Trudeau took office in early November, he delivered on his election promise of implementing a systematic resettlement program—one that now aims to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by February.

More than half of the Syrians that arrived that day were Syrian-Armenians—a result of a massive undertaking by the Armenian community of Toronto to secure private sponsorships among the community. So far, more than 1,300 Syrian refugees have been approved through the program, which does not require that either the sponsor or refugee have an Armenian background; more than 350 have already arrived, and close to 1,000 are expected to arrive in Toronto by the end of February.

That day, the newly arrived Syrian Armenians were also met with hundreds of Canadian Armenians at the Armenian Community Center of Toronto, where much of their paperwork was processed and filed, and where they would be able to continue the community life they left behind in Syria.

Canada’s recent, warm welcoming of Syrian refugees has been regarded as a moral example for the rest of the world. What many have failed to realize, though, is that the roots of the country’s international humanitarian tradition were formed during the Armenian Genocide.

Between 1923-32, 109 boys (known as the Georgetown Boys) and 40 girls—all orphans of the Armenian Genocide—were brought to Canada in what became known as “Canada’s Noble Experiment,” the country’s first humanitarian act on an international scale. A century ago, the efforts of the Canadian government to provide a safe haven for genocide orphans would not have been possible without the hard work of the Armenian community and individual sponsors, such as Aris Alexanian, who helped bring the orphans over to Canada, supervised their education, and helped place them with families. Much is the same today.

Maria Karageozian is reunited with her father Hagop, a Syrian refugee, at the Armenian Community Center of Toronto (Photo: Mark Blinch/Reuters)
Maria Karageozian is reunited with her father Hagop, a Syrian refugee, at the Armenian Community Center of Toronto (Photo: Mark Blinch/Reuters)

While the Canadian government’s considerable undertaking to provide refuge for the people of Syria is commendable and should be taken as an example for other countries, it is also important not to lose sight of the determination and diligence the Armenian community of Toronto in making this happen. The Canadian government does not provide any funding to the project; rather, members of the Armenian Community Center of Toronto privately sponsor newcomers, often making room in their own homes to people they have not previously met.

Canada’s tradition of helping those in need, no matter which part of the world they may come from, is entrenched and forever connected to the Armenian people and the history of the Armenian Genocide. Today, 100 years after the one of the bloodiest chapters of the 20th century, we must thank Canada once again for its mission to be a moral beacon in the Syrian crisis, and we must recognize the hard work of an Armenian community thousands of miles removed from Syria.

Welcome to Canada, brothers and sisters. Your new home is one that cares not only for its own people, but for people around the world. And the Armenian community here will surely accept you with open arms.

Բարի եկաք

Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the editor of Torontohye Monthly. He is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly and the former director of public relations of the Tufenkian Foundation. Born and raised in Toronto, he is currently based in Yerevan.
Rupen Janbazian

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  1. Ապրի՛ս Ռուբէն, դուն հեռու սակայն մտածումներդ, խիղճդ ու հոգիդ անխառն՝ թորոնթոհայ մերօրեայ ալեկոծ կեանքին հետ է։ Հազար ապրիս:

    • Baron Hagop,
      No one is doomed to assimilate in Canada. Those who wish to retain their heritage are free to do so. It is up to the individual and the parents.
      Why not Armenia? Well, if we had a supportive government that was not corrupt, it would have been wonderful, but we don’t. Syrian Armenians who have gone to Armenia with high hopes have had little support either from the Government or people of Armenia. Too bad, really.

  2. I hope it Will be appreciated by the New comers, Canada is à country of peace, we should keep it for ever.Lucky are the people , to enter Canada, one of the most welcoming country on the world, let’s not to abuse.Vive le Canada.


    • Canada had very little to do with the situation in Syria.
      Turkey is the country that is aiding and abetting the throat-cutting ISIS cannibals in their criminal, illegal attempt to overthrow the legitimate government of Syria.
      There were no Syrian refugees before Turks started their campaign to overthrow Assad.

      Turkey is reaping what it has sown.

    • One of the sad parts of this story was that the first family that disembarked from the plane, as well as many others, was an Armenian family. Once again, after 100 years my people were refugees. You, I am sure, can take credit for that too. The first refugees were met by the Prime Minister, the provincial Premier and other dignitaries; they were offered coats and hats and the little children were given toys. Not the welcome offered to them by Turkey I am certain. In fact, while Canada provides care for its refugees and helps them out the Turkish Government happily lets them beg in the major cities and mistreats them constantly. However, they are quick to use them as currency to extort European Governments or anyone else who will put up with their threats. You see Mr. Tan you are in no position to criticize any other government, especially the Canadian Government who had nothing with creating the situation in Syria, let alone profiting from it!

    • Mr. Tan,

      Canada is quite dissimilar to the Sublime Porte 2.0, er Turkey.

      Uno, she is quite a bit more distant, Eh?

      Duo, Canada has not actively funded, permitted, aided, fought with, given arms to, cared for, or otherwise helped ISIS, as has Erdoganland. Turkey is responsible, as per usual, for an amazing amount of suffering. Please read Seymour Hersh’s article today about how Turkey is smuggling among many others, Uigurs to the front lines.

      I understand 1/3 of Turks tell pollsters they support ISIS.

      But we should not paint your homeland with a broad brush. Like fine genocidal artisans, the Turkish state has time for small stuff, like destroying utterly the Museum of Genocide and Armenian Church at Der Zor, and destroying the few purely Armenian settlements in Syria.

      Syria is an ancient land, it is mentioned in the Bible. It will rise again, perhaps with the help of Orthodox Christians, Kurds, Yezidis, Iran, Alewites, and good Sunnis who decline to murder their neighbors.

      Turkey? Not so much. She might crumble again of her own weight.

  4. i too think this is very nice for the syrian armenians,but all i heard was it was very difficult to leave syria,because they had so much,and would hang on to these material things.i have one question ,why did they not go to our homeland of armenia,we need them more there then in canada.pari yegagh.

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