From Armenia to Syria and Back Again

Dzia’s Journey

Dzia* was named after her great-grandmother, who came to Syria in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide, toting Dzia’s grandmother - an infant at the time - and two great-uncles at her side on the arduous journey. As a second generation Armenian-Syrian, recently Dzia found herself in a position eerily similar to her great-grandmother’s.

Dzia’s husband, Victor*, warned her for months to be cautious about taking her two young children, 3 and 5, out into the streets. She sat at the kitchen table peeling potatoes for the evening meal, wishing she had fresh mint for the dish. Remembering her husband’s warning, she would not go out to find mint. Dzia felt trapped in her own home. As Suzy* and Hani* played together near the kitchen doorway, her husband’s co-worker rushed through the door, gasping for air, with blood soaking his shirt.

“Grab anything you can carry and take the children. Victor’s dead and you are no longer safe here.” Then he collapsed at Dzia’s feet. Dead. Children screamed. Dzia’s head spun. Eventually, she got herself together and began preparations to leave, taking all she and her small children could carry.

Finding several heeding the same advice, the family joined neighbors on the long journey back to her ancestral land of Armenia. But it wasn’t an easy road; 700 miles with a large caravan. She woke up one morning, aching from lying on the cold hard ground, to find her last bit of money and all her valuables gone. She had nothing.

A couple of weeks later, a man approached her and some of the other women with promises of a new life, a comfortable home for them and their children. One of the women had the good sense to see the scam and warned them not to go. Dzia listened to the woman, but others did not. That night Dzia was raped by one of her fellow travelers.

Finally Dzia and her children made it to Armenia. She was weak with hunger - every morsel procured, she gave to her children. Hani was ill but there was no doctor or medicine to treat him. What were they going to do?

House of Esther Rehabilitates Families

While Dzia and her story are fictional, she represents 17,000 Syrian-Armenians who are now living in Armenia. Scarred physically, emotionally, and spiritually, not only do they have no food, water or shelter, and no means by which to secure provisions, and little hope to keep trying. Families like Dzia’s are invited to the House of Esther, a rehabilitation center for women and families to receive counseling and training to begin a new life.

The buildings of the House of Esther were initially a shelter for victims of Armenia’s 1988 earthquake, which left 514,000 people without shelter. It was then transitioned to a summer camp facility. Now, with the support of the Mayor of Spitak, GHNI workers are refurbishing the center for refugees. 

Eight families can reside in the main building, which also contains a large kitchen and dining area. The adjacent building is a network of 10 mobile homes for smaller families. Altogether, 20-30 people may inhabit the House of Esther, though future expansion could increase that number to as many as 150.

A doctor and an organization dedicated to helping Syrian women have partnered with the House of Esther to provide medical care and counseling for families like Dzia’s. Additionally, through Transformational Community Development (TCD) training, the families will take advantage of the 6 hectares (about 15 acres) of farmland by raising livestock and chickens. These activities will generate income needed to support the center. After about one year, the families will transition to their own communities, begin their own farms, and share the teachings of TCD with others.

Will you come alongside women like Dzia and children like Suzy and Hani as they recover from their distressed situation to a life of hope?

* Dzia, Victor, Suzy, and Hani are fictional characters representing the realities of thousands of Syrian-Armenian people.