BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
There has been too much talk about the tragic crisis in Syria by self-described analysts and experts who have managed to spread misinformation, while inadvertently jeopardizing the safety of the Armenian community.
At this late hour, rather than propagating half-baked political ideas, the Diaspora should concentrate on providing urgently needed humanitarian assistance to Syrian-Armenians.
It is encouraging that Armenian organizations have started raising funds to meet the needs of Armenians in Syria. Going a step further, in some countries, social, religious and political organizations have formed coalitions to extend the needed help in a coordinated manner. Hopefully, these groups will shortly issue statements about the specific needs of Syrian-Armenians, the amount to be raised, and the mechanism to distribute the funds.
In the absence of a Diaspora-wide structure that would represent all Armenians worldwide and deal with their collective problems, each community is trying to form its own umbrella organization. In some instances, several joint committees are established in the same community, each dealing with a specific issue. To avoid redundancies, it would be preferable to form a single joint committee in each community with subcommittees dealing with separate tasks.
Additionally, two pan-Armenian bodies can play a critical role in this humanitarian crisis — one located outside Syria and the other inside the country tasked with the coordination and distribution of humanitarian assistance from all sources:
1. The entity outside Syria – which is yet to be formed — would not only coordinate aid from the Diaspora and Armenia, but more importantly, secure assistance from governments, international organizations (United Nations, World Council of Churches), and non-governmental organizations.
2. The recently-created pan-Armenian entity within Syria is composed of all Armenian religious and charitable organizations. It is charged with communicating the needs of the community to the outside world, receiving the incoming aid, and distributing it to Armenians throughout the country.
While a comprehensive assessment of the Syrian-Armenian community’s extensive needs has not been made, it is clear that millions of dollars are required to provide thousands of destitute families with food, water, medical care, fuel, electricity, and tuition for needy students. It is imperative that the aid be shared with all people living in or near Armenian neighborhoods, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation.
In order to carry out such a worldwide large-scale fundraising drive, the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund should consider dedicating its telethon this year to the Syrian-Armenian relief. Major organizations and benefactors should be asked to make generous contributions to preserve the historic Armenian presence in Syria that predates the Genocide. The All-Armenian Fund has already taken a first step by opening a special bank account in Yerevan to solicit donations for Syria which so far has raised $50,000. This amount has been spent on airlifting hundreds of children from Aleppo to summer camps in Armenia.
Funds should also be urgently raised to provide housing and living expenses to Syrians who have recently moved to Armenia either on a temporary or permanent basis. This is not the time for arguing over the difficult choice between helping Armenians stay in Syria or move out, since their very survival is at stake. Everyone must respect the wishes and judgments of Syrian-Armenians and support their personal decisions. After all, since their lives are on the line, their choices must not be questioned. This is also not the time to make judgments on the quality and quantity of assistance provided by the Armenian government to Syrian-Armenian refugees. Such assessments can be made at a later date, after the storm has subsided.
Finally, even though financial assistance is the most urgent need, equally important is conveying the message to Syrian-Armenians that they are not alone in their greatest hour of need! They should be made to feel that Armenians and good people around the world sincerely care for their well-being and are doing everything possible to safeguard their survival.
Such a hopeful and caring message is critical not only for Syrian-Armenians, but to all Armenians throughout the world. The pain of any one community must be shared by all Armenians who should rush to help the stricken community, because they are all members of one big family. This spirit of mutual support would assure all Armenian communities that in case of misfortune, they will not be abandoned to their tragic fate.
In view of the dire situation of Armenians in Syria, let’s set aside all other considerations and rush to their rescue!