Escaping Syria

Refugees find a new home and new hope through Caritas Armenia

by Gayane Abrahamyan

Editors’ note: In the June 2017 edition of ONE, Gayane Abrahamyan profiles the exceptional work of Caritas Armenia in caring for the poor, especially the young and the elderly. Another group in need includes refugees who have fled the war in Syria. In this web exclusive, we get a glimpse at the world they left behind, and the struggles they face in Armenia. We agreed not to photograph the families, to protect their privacy.

Overcome with emotion, Angela chokes on her words, the young mother’s sadness and loss plainly visible in her eyes. Amid the war in Syria, Islamic extremists took the lives of her husband, her father and her father-in-law. She also lost her home and her job. With three children in her care, the 35-year-old had to start a new life, alone, in Armenia.

“I thought we would not survive, either,” she says. “We also received threats by telephone.”

With care, she recounts the terrible days of 2013, when ISIS militants kidnapped her husband and father-in-law from the small factory where they worked.

“I was waiting for some news for four months. I was waiting for a call all the time, keeping a Bible next to my phone. I was waiting for any news. I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t eat — it was an unbearable wait,” she explains.

“We tried to find a way to offer money, to give ransom, but there was no response; they said that they had to receive their punishment,” she says.

“What was the fault of my husband and his father? It was only being Christian Armenians.”

Four months after the kidnapping, Angela was told that her husband and his father had been killed. Despite all the efforts of the mediators, it was impossible even to recover their bodies.

“We were told from different places that they did not give the bodies, because they did not want them to be buried as Christians,” she says.

“A Muslim who was imprisoned together with them told me that they refused to renounce Christianity and, therefore, they were condemned to death and were not even buried.”

Angela caresses a picture of her husband and children. Lost in her tears, she looks up as one of her three children, 11-year-old Meghedi, enters the home, breaking the atmosphere to ask, “Where is my ball?” The mother quickly wipes her tears so that her child does not notice them, and starts searching for the toy.

“I try not to cry in front of my children anymore,” she says later. “It was, of course, very difficult to overcome. I’m a believer, but after what happened to my husband I have some anger inside me. I thought it was unfair and God must have saved him. They were killed remaining faithful to Christ until the end; they did not convert, did not become Muslims in order to live.

“But then I realized that I have to overcome my anger and infinite sadness for the sake of my children.”

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