The Armenian Relief Cross of Lebanon (LOKH) had just finished up for the evening on August 4 when the blast occurred, and the gravity of the situation brought the staff and members to the Araxi Boulghourjian Socio-Medical Center to help the wounded. The volunteer force of young and old community members stepped in wherever necessary, distributing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as people had left their homes with only the clothes on their backs and holding up their cell phone flashlights to aid physicians and nurses performing first aid. Night turned into morning, and all patients were treated and sheltered. In the morning, more injured arrived, and the agonizing search began for missing compatriots, along with the unending cleanup from the shattered glass and rubble caused by the explosion.
“The pressure on our center was unbearable,” said LOKH chair Silva Sabounjian. “From our hallways to the sidewalks of nearby streets, the area was overcome by the injured who were in excruciating pain. Soon after, our medical supplies were exhausted, and our doctors were forced to suture wounds without the use of anesthesia under the guiding lights of cell phones because the power was out,” she continued in her description of the horrific scene. In all, 240 seriously injured patients received care and hundreds more were treated with minor injuries.
Since the Boulghourjian Socio-Medical Center did not sustain prohibitive damage, it remained open to continue offering treatment to the wounded. There was, however, extensive damage to the Dekermendjian kitchen and cafeteria where LOKH members and staff had been providing homemade meals for the elderly and needy due to the pandemic and economic crises. Prior to the blast, 3,000 meals were either delivered or picked up each week, and ARS sister organizations were vital in assisting with delivery. Despite the impossible circumstances, 1,000 meals were prepared for pickup and delivery to community centers and homes the Friday after the blast.
After learning the news, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Central Executive Board (CEB) mobilized its team, produced a statement regarding the needs of the Armenian community and instantly began a fundraising campaign for the Lebanese Armenian community. The most pressing goal was to raise enough funds to help those in need of immediate medical attention.
Many compatriots have been left homeless with only temporary shelter. There are countless windows that need to be replaced, homes refurbished, damages repaired, community centers rebuilt and businesses repaired and reopened. “This too shall pass” has become a hopeful message for the community on social media outlets.
“The work ahead of us is extensive,” stressed CEB chair Nyree Derderian, Ph.D. “We can only rebuild with a unified effort, all together hand in hand. Your partnership with the ARS shows that this 110 year-old organization still serves in our communities in 27 different countries. The ARS is the heart of our communities, always with the people and for the people.”
The ARS has been at the helm of large-scale humanitarian efforts since its very first convention in 1910, when members asked US President Woodrow Wilson to intervene on behalf of the ravaged and endangered Armenian community of the Ottoman Empire. Many years later in 1988, it would answer the call of thousands of victims in the Spitak earthquake. “Today, 110 years later, that same institution is actively providing immediate aid in [the] aftermath of the Beirut explosion that killed 150+, wounded 5000+ and created over 300,000 homeless people,” said Weekly contributor Raffy Ardhaldjian in a Facebook post shared widely. He went on to stress the needs of the community in Lebanon, home to Armenians since the 1915 Genocide. As a global organization in 27 countries, the ARS consistently receives unconditional support from its entities during crises such as this. Derderian reminded the Armenian Weekly that the call to action during catastrophic times and the desire to “reach our people at times of crisis is in the blood of the ARS ungerouhi.”
Demonstrating the desire of the global ARS entities to offer immediate assistance, as well as the willingness of various organizations and individuals to partner with the ARS in its efforts for Lebanon, Derderian offered some highlights beginning with the ongoing efforts of the regions which thus far have raised 300,000 USD.
Code 3 Angels founder Joe Krikorian, whose nonprofit has provided extensive first aid training in Armenia and Artsakh, offered assistance in acquiring medical supplies for Lebanon, followed by Armenian Fund USA chair Maria Mehranian’s offer to sponsor a cargo shipment of those medical supplies to the stricken country. “Together for Anjar” and the Armenian Bar Association each committed thousands of dollars to partnering with the ARS appeal, as have longtime family supporters of the ARS, the Misserlians of San Francisco, CA., the Marashlians (Vicky Marashlian is former CEB chair), and the Basmadjian family of the ARS Eastern USA. And the list goes on and on.
California-based Armenian artist and third-generation ARS member Arpi Krikorian, known for her beautiful celebration of the Armenian culture, is donating profits from sales of her school supplies to the ARS for Lebanon. In a surprise benefit, Tro Krikorian of Pasadena, CA held a one-hour backyard concert on August 8 inspiring generous support from fans and friends.
Additionally, celebrities including singer/songwriter Sebu Simonian, System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, actress Arsinée Khanjian, broadcast journalist Araksya Karapetyan and comedian Vahe Berberian have publicly promoted the ARS appeal for Lebanon. Berberian’s August 9 edition of his weekly YouTube series airing Sundays at noon PST featured Voice of Van radio host Njteh Meguerdichian, LOKH chair Silva Momjian Sabounjian and Lorig Saboundjian Zadourian of Lebanese OTV and Radio Voice of Van discussing the situation on the ground at that time. On Saturday, August 15, the ARS CEB is planning a benefit concert to air on Yerkir Media and Facebook. Many singers from Armenia and the diaspora have already volunteered to participate. Further details will be made public soon.
“Thank you to all those who have donated, thank you to our entities and members who even during COVID-19 are our fiercest believers and supporters, thank you to the LOKH members who have put aside their personal pain and are on the front lines, thank you to all the community members in Lebanon who stood by the side of our injured, and thank you to everyone who has taken part to make our efforts a success,” concluded Derderian, overcome with gratitude. “We have just started the rebuilding process and there is much more to do as the road ahead is undefined, but the mission is rebuilding our community in Lebanon.”