GLENVIEW, Ill.—Chicago Armenians raised nearly $10,000 at a rally held on Sat., Sept. 29 in support of Syrian Armenian Relief. Organized by the Chicago “Christapor” ARF Gomideh, with the participation of nine community organizations and churches, the rally was held at Shahnasarian Hall in the All Saints Community Center.
Master of Ceremonies Armen Papazian welcomed the crowd and invited the Homenetmen Scouts to perform the presentation of the colors ceremony and the singing of the U.S. and Armenian national anthems. In his opening remarks, Papazian noted that although the event was intended to be a celebration of the ARF’s 122nd anniversary, the “Christapor” Gomideh—determining that the deteriorating situation and endangerment of the Armenian community in Syria required an immediate response by the Chicago community—instead dedicated the event to Syrian Armenian Relief.
Vasken Aivazian was then invited to give a brief history of the Armenian community in Syria. He noted some of the many contributions by Syrian-Armenians to the Armenian nation. The community, he said, has been a crucible that has forged many great leaders for the diaspora. Chicago Hamazkayin Chair Haroutiun Mikaelian then gave a personal account of growing up in Aleppo, which instilled in him a life-long love of Armenian culture. He touched upon how his teachers and community leaders helped to shape his life and the lives of others from his generation.
Papazian then introduced the evening’s guest speaker, Hairenik Editor Zaven Torikian. To provide perspective on the situation in Syria, Torikian began his remarks by comparing and contrasting the progression of attempts at regime change that recently swept across North Africa to the Arabian peninsula, and finally reached Jordan and Syria. He pointed out how, unlike in Libya where the Western powers took a direct and active role in the overthrow of Qadaffi, in Syria the U.S. worked through proxies, notably Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. He noted that this battle was seen not solely for gaining control of Syria, but as an attempt to reduce Iran’s influence in the region.
Torikian added that while some Armenians had decided to support the Free Syrian Army, and others sided with the Assad government, the vast majority of Armenians have tried to stay neutral, attempting to emulate the position of the Lebanese-Armenian community during Lebanon’s civil war. He also explained that the Free Syrian Army—heavily influenced by Turkey—is viewed with suspicion by many; the army contains, for example, an “Ataturk” Brigade and even an “Enver Pasha” brigade.
He went on to discuss how, until recently, many Armenians were fairly well removed from the fighting, which occurred primarily outside of Aleppo. As the fighting has begun to reach Armenian neighborhoods in Aleppo, however, Armenian organizations have mobilized to help address the critical needs of the community, including food distribution. Torikian’s comments were followed by a brief question and answer session.
Papazian then invited “Christapor” Gomideh representative Greg Bedian to provide closing remarks. Bedian began by reiterating some of the many contributions of the Syrian-Armenians to the Armenian nation. He noted how Syrian-Armenians had provided aid to Armenians during the Lebanese Civil War; to Armenia following the earthquake and the Arstakh liberation struggle; and how they had sheltered Iraqi Armenians during the two wars in Iraq and the chaos that followed. Bedian concluded his remarks and began the fundraising portion of the program by stating that it was the Chicago community’s turn to give assistance to the Syrian-Armenian community, to demonstrate our solidarity, and provide them with both the moral and financial support that they need.
Participating organizations in the Syrian Armenian Relief rally included the Armenian All Saints Apostolic Church, Armenian Evangelical Church of Chicago, Armenian General Benevolent Union Chicago Chapter, Armenian National Committee of Illinois, Armenian Relief Society “Zabelle” Chapter, Armenian Youth Federation “Ararat” Chapter, Hamazkayin Chicago Chapter, Homenetmen Chicago Chapter, and the Taniel Varoujan Armenian School.