GLENVIEW, Ill.—Armenians from Chicago and Racine gathered in Shahnasarian Hall on Dec. 13 to hear first-hand about the difficulties facing the Armenian community in Syria from Dr. Nerses Sarkissian, a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee of Syria and the Syrian Armenian Committee for Urgent Relief and Rehabilitation.
Sarkissian is touring the East Coast Armenian communities to raise awareness of the challenges facing the Syrian-Armenian community, as part of an emergency appeal for Syrian-Armenian relief initiated by the ARF Eastern Region Central Committee.
Chicago “Christapor” Gomideh Chair Khajak Arakelian delivered the opening remarks, impressing upon those gathered the important role of the Syrian-Armenian community for the Armenian nation and especially for the diaspora. Arakelian then invited Sarkissian to the podium, to warm applause.
Sarkissian proceeded to give a detailed presentation regarding the many difficulties that Syrian Armenians face. He noted that some of the smaller communities and villages, as well as entire neighborhoods in Aleppo and Damascus, have been completely depopulated of Armenians; as a result, some have been internally displaced, while others have felt compelled to flee their homes for Armenia, Lebanon, or further. Sarkissian described some of the hardships faced by those who remain, including unemployment, irregular supplies of water and electricity, and a perilous lifeline upon which Aleppo relies for medicine, food, and fuel. In addition, he discussed the ever-present threat of random shelling, which has claimed many homes, businesses, and lives.
Sarkissian also outlined some of the many efforts the community has undertaken to help alleviate some of the challenges, such as drilling wells near the churches, schools, and community centers, to provide the community with fresh water, as well as securing generators to help ensure that electricity is available. He also talked about how the Relief Committee provides food staples on a monthly basis to thousands of Armenians and non-Armenians alike.
Sarkissian played a video showing some of the devastation, featuring interviews with Aleppo Armenians discussing the conditions. The video highlighted the civil defense teams organized by the ARF, which not only stand watch over the community round-the-clock to ensure its security, but also serve as first responders, helping free people from the rubble and get them to medical care, using a makeshift ambulance converted from an Armenian school van. Most importantly, the video showed the Aleppo Armenian community going about its normal activities, with students going to school and people attending cultural events.
Sarkissian continued his presentation by providing additional details regarding the video and taking questions from the audience. Upon the conclusion of his remarks, the audience roundly applauded Sarkissian.
Arakelian then returned to the podium and thanked Sarkissian for his presentation. After offering his closing remarks, during which he reiterated the great needs of the Syrian-Armenian community, he invited Very Rev. Ghevont Pentezian to offer some final thoughts. Pentezian relayed how he, too, was a Syrian Armenian, and thanked everyone present for attending and for demonstrating their moral support for the Syrian-Armenian community. He stated that moral support alone, however, is not enough and that the Chicago community must provide its financial support as well. He then asked Arakelian for a donation envelope and proudly made the first donation for Syrian-Armenian relief, and asked that all those present follow suit.
The program in Chicago was organized by the Chicago “Christapor” ARF Gomideh with the participation of the Racine “Marzed” ARF Gomideh, Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church, AYF Chicago “Ararat” Chapter, Armenian National Committee of Illinois, ARS Chicago “Zabelle” Chapter, Hamazkayin Chicago Chapter, and Homenetmen Chicago Chapter.
Sarkissian has visited the Armenian communities in Worcester, Detroit, New York, Boston, Providence, Washington, D.C., Chicago/Racine, and Granite City.
Sarkissian is set to visit Philadelphia on Dec. 18; the event will be held at the St. Gregory the Illuminator Church Hall at 7:30 p.m. Sarkissian will then travel to Ridgefield, N.J., on Dec. 19, where a gathering will take place at the St. Vartanantz Church Hall at 7 p.m.