Sarkissian Shares Challenges Facing Syrian Armenians in Greater Washington, D.C. Presentation
WASHINGTON—Inspired by the Christmas season of giving and conscious of the blessings shared by the community, Armenian Americans from throughout the greater Washington, D.C. area gathered at Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church Arabian Hall on Dec. 12 to hear the moving words of Dr. Nerses Sarkissian, a member of the ARF Central Committee of Syria and the Syrian Armenian Committee for Urgent Relief and Rehabilitation.
Organized by the Washington, D.C. ARF “Sebouh” Gomideh, in collaboration with the Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church and a broad array of local sister organizations, Sarkissian described the plight of the Syrian Armenians, as part of a nine-city Eastern U.S. informational tour, an initiative of the regional ARF Central Committee. ARF East Coast Central Committee member Hovsep Avakian delivered the opening remarks.
Sarkissian spoke in calm yet resolute terms about the dangers facing the Syrian-Armenian community, sharing accounts of extended barrages of bombings by al-Nusra Front and Islamic State forces—leading to chronic lack of food, water, and heating oil, and the urgent need for quality medical care. He described a community reduced to less than half its size in just five years—with families seeking refuge in nearby Lebanon, their ancestral homeland Armenia, and even in European countries and, more recently, Canada.
A moving video described the round-the-clock efforts by community ARF youth to support and sustain schools, hospitals, and old-age homes in the worst affected areas of Aleppo—rushing to assist women, children, and elderly caught up in the bombing raids, forced to leave their residences and relocate to safer portions of the city.
Sarkissian showcased the unique camaraderie that has been forged between all community organizations: the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic, and Protestant Churches; ARF, Social Democratic Hunchakian, and Armenian Democratic Liberal-Ramagavar political parties; Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and Armenian Relief Society (ARS). All have been working together as part of the local Syrian Armenian Relief Coordinating Committee’s efforts to provide a social safety net for Armenians remaining in Syria—offering much-needed food, shelter and medicine to the most needy.
Despite the constant attacks in what seems to be an unending crisis, Sarkissian shared news of lectures and concerts celebrating Armenian culture and heritage, as the community strives to keep a sense of normalcy amidst fluctuating bouts of chaos and danger.
ARF “Sebouh” Gomideh Chairman Aram Sarafian offered welcoming remarks and thanked attendees for their generosity and ongoing support to ensure that vital assistance reaches the region. The Armenian diplomatic team in Washington—led by Republic of Armenia Ambassador Tigran Sargsyan and Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan—each offered poignant remarks in support of the beleaguered Syrian-Armenian community and urged local and worldwide support. Ambassador Sargsyan and keynote speaker Nerses Sarkissian each spotlighted the vital role of the Republic of Armenia Consulate in Aleppo, the last remaining diplomatic mission from any country still functioning in the city. Avetisyan spoke from the heart—noting that Karabagh Armenians, and compatriots who had survived the anti-Armenian Azerbaijani pogroms in Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad, and Maragha from 1988-91 understand the high human cost of war and the painful realities of being subjected to violence simply because of their ethnicity or faith.
Following the presentation, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions about specific challenges facing the Syrian-Armenian community and how they can be of assistance in this critical time. Sarkissian did not sugar-coat facts on the ground, but offered hope for a peaceful Syrian future and the Armenian community’s role in that peace, although a concrete timeline was not offered. What stood out throughout was Sarkissian’s and the local leadership’s commitment to the safety and security of the Syrian-Armenian community to the extent financially and physically feasible.
Sarkissian has visited the Armenian communities in Worcester, Detroit, New York, Boston, Providence, Washington, D.C., Chicago/Racine, and Granite City.