From Aleppo to Beirut, Damascus to Yerevan—the Syrian Armenians are survivors, exhibiting community solidarity and individual fortitude in the face of tragedy. The following photos show their conditions and struggles in Syria, Lebanon and Armenia. In Syria, they are caught between battles and bombardments, carrying on amid conflict. In neighboring Lebanon, they have found safety amid a fellow Diapora community, but little stability as they navigate a life in waiting. Others are trying to rebuild lives and businesses in Armenia, many still hopeful of return to their birthplace.
In the first half of the 20th century, Armenia’s repatriation program brought thousands of intellectuals, artisans and merchants from the Middle East to the struggling Soviet nation. These Diaspora Armenians introduced their own traditions in business and cuisine, some of which were absorbed and are now part of everyday life. Many others found the conditions adverse and would go on to resettle in the West at the earliest chance.
The upheaval in Syria has forced the entire Armenian community to reassess its existence and priorities, often with no or idea of what the future might hold in store. This uncertainty is especially poignant for the young generation, who never considered leaving their country. For some it holds new opportunities, for others despair, but for all it translates to a life they never planned.
Syrian Armenians may not have needed or desired a life changing revolt, but it was destined to come to them. Aleppo, the stronghold of the community in Syria, remained aloof from the upheaval plaguing the countryside long after it had swept up much of the country. Its business class, including a large Sunni elite, was unwilling to allow upheaval to rock the boat. But protests began being held each Friday in multiple districts of the city. The movement reached a fever pitch in May 2012 when riot police beat student activists at the Aleppo University in the presence of UN observers.
The Armenian Genocide memorial in Syria’s Deir El Zor province, long a pilgrimage site for descendants of survivors, is hardly the only casualty of the brutal conflict raging across the country today, but it is a symbolic one. It was bombarded during a battle between the army and its armed opponents in November 2012, but still stands as a testament to another struggle nearly a century ago.
February’s presidential election did not produce a change of leadership. In the end, the seats of power remained in place no less staunchly than when campaign rhetoric began several months earlier. But it did unexpectedly shake the political landscape, planting seeds of change in Armenia’s far-flung villages and offering the promise of increasingly dynamic civic engagement.
February 18, 2013 marked the sixth presidential election in the history of independent Armenia. Compared to many former Soviet republics, Armenia has successfully carried out many national and local elections as well as constitutional referendums in its young 22 years of democracy, albeit with difficulties and scars.