Hope Takes Root

Armenia’s Catholic Community opens its arms to Syrian refugees

text by Gohar Abrahamyan with photographs by Nazik Armenakyan

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The horror of the Syrian war is still visible in the eyes of Salbi Brutyan and her son. When speaking of those months of violence, they tremble from anxiety. It is a nightmare both want to forget.

“When the shootings broke out in Aleppo,” Ms. Brutyan recalls, “my 7-year-old son was at school, located in what became the most dangerous part of the city. They called and told me to fetch him. I was shivering at the shots, calling my relatives and asking them for help. Even his father refused, telling me he was scared.

“Panic-stricken, I ran out, found a taxi, somehow reached my child, and bolted home.” The normally congested streets were void of life.

The horrors of war are fixed on the face of the 57-year-old woman. For eight consecutive months, with her 7-year-old son, Ms. Brutyan rarely left her apartment. Neighbors supplied food and water. But when the fighting moved to the neighborhood, and the street was almost destroyed, she packed her suitcase and moved to Armenia for three weeks to stay with her brother. She hoped the war would go away. It did not, however; nor did the effects of war leave her or her son.

The tall, dark-haired 14-year-old with penetrating eyes has mental health issues, and his physical health has deteriorated, too. Named for the sainted slayer of dragons, St. George, young George has some very real and personal monsters to slay. He is emotional and runs to hug his mother whenever she gets excited. He wipes away her tears and calms her.

And yet, he is still very much a growing boy. He enjoys playing soccer and looks forward to the weekends. He has made friends, who have included him in their matches. He does not remember much from Syria, and he does not want to hear about going back.

“I used to have a computer there,” he says. “I would love to have one here as well. I used to play there, but now everything is destroyed, the city is destroyed.” He speaks quickly, taking deep breaths once in a while. He seems sure that one day he will have a computer, as well as a Lamborghini — his favorite car.

He is young enough to still dream of what will be. But the seemingly endless list of challenges and difficulties has, at times, reduced his mother to despair. Recalling these hardships, she quickly composes herself, saying, “Salbi, leave the fear aside; pull yourself together!”

Friends told her that in Kanaker, a suburb of the sprawling Armenian capital city of Yerevan, dormitories for Syrian Armenian refugees were being renovated on the grounds of the Armenian Catholic Church. Although the Catholic community in Armenia is small, its outreach to the Armenian nation — the first nation to adopt Christianity — is considerable, ranging from care for refugees, the elderly, those with special needs and the poor in isolated villages to the education and faith formation of children and young adults.

“I had no idea who they were,” Ms. Brutyan recalls of the concern offered by the charity of the Armenian Catholic Church, Caritas Armenia. “I didn’t trust them, and decided to stay in a hostel with my friends. But we didn’t manage to endure.

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