Barely recovered from the acts of war and completely overwhelmed by the unprecedented economic crisis, Syria is faced with a new disaster – a deadly earthquake. On February 6, 2023, at 4:17 a.m. local time, residents within the greater Aleppo provinces were rocked by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Later, it was followed by two more earthquakes, one with a 7.5 tremor and continuing aftershocks.
In addition to human losses, churches, buildings and institutions suffered extensive structural damage, some even flattened. Soon after becoming aware of the extent of damage in the city of Aleppo, the Armenian Evangelical Bethel Church in Aleppo, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Haroutune Selimian, president of the Armenian Evangelical Community of Syria, immediately acted to help the community. People, gripped by fear and left homeless, rushed to the streets and tried to find shelter in churches, schools and other centers. More than 350 families found shelter in the halls and courtyard of Bethel Church. The Armenian Evangelical Community of Syria, with the financial support of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) and the encouragement of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, was one of the first respondents to the disaster with direct material support and taking care of immediate and basic needs, along with moral support, counseling and prayers. The church has also been organizing special programs for the children in its playground to keep them preoccupied and encouraged.
On Thursday, February 10, Consul General of the Republic of Armenia Papken Badalyan visited Bethel Church and spent time with the people.
“Armenia and Artsakh, with their own challenges and hardship, are always with us and share our pain and sorrow,” said Rev. Dr. Selimian. “And, instead of us extending our hands to Armenia, Armenia is now extending its helping hands to us by sending special aid to Syria and officially handing it over to the Syrian government.”
As the death toll and the number injured are rising every hour and day, Bethel Church, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Selimian, continues to serve, encourage and inject hope to all those who are affected by this devastating earthquake. The number of those who are sheltered in Bethel Church and other churches and centers is decreasing, as some are slowly returning home or finding alternate residences. “We continue to serve them in the same way,” said Rev. Dr. Selimian. “Feeding them, counseling and encouraging them. At the same time, we are recording all the collapsed and damaged buildings. We are sending special surveyors to evaluate and give us direction on how and when the repairs can start. We are also in the process of repairing the damage to the schools and plan to resume classes on Monday, February 20. On one hand, we try to reduce the pressure on them, and on the other hand, we give them signs of normal life as a psychological transition for them to return from the state of shock to normal life.”
Rev. Dr. Selimian also reports that the condition of many affected buildings remains dangerous. The authorities have marked approximately 40,000 buildings in Syria as dangerous and uninhabitable and must be evacuated immediately, of which approximately 13,000 are in Aleppo and its regions. “Now we are facing another alarm,” said Rev. Dr. Selimian, “because people who thought that they would be able to return to their homes, it appears that they are not allowed to. And this puts another pressure and obligation on us – to find and rent houses to accommodate them. This is certainly not a natural process, because in three-room houses, five to six people are accommodated in each room, and this creates an unpleasant living situation.”
“We pray that the resilient spirit of the community in Syria will once again prevail rising up from the depth of this latest calamity,” said Zaven Khanjian, AMAA executive director and CEO.