A Syrian Wedding in Armenia!
By Sylvia Iskenderian
It all began with a call from a friend who said that her son was getting married. So imagine my surprise when I was told that the wedding would take place in Armenia.
I was ecstatic. “We will be in Armenia at that time, and we would be delighted to attend,” I said, not giving it another thought. A wedding in Armenia sounded very romantic. But then, I soon found out that this was not an ordinary wedding.
The story that unfolded before me was far more complex than I ever expected. In fact, it is a story of our times and what has become today’s tragic reality.
The recent horrific civil war in Syria has delivered a terrible blow to the local Armenian community which had been left helpless to fend for itself. Thousands of families fled the country, leaving behind their homes and possessions.
Our friends had taken their family back to Australia where they had lived years ago, however, the young bride to be and her family had remained in war-torn Aleppo. I could not have imagined that in this day and age, life could be interrupted by ‘war.’
In our contemporary, mundane lives in the Diaspora, however, we are totally oblivious to what is really happening out there in Syria, and in fact some of us even choose to ignore it. Its sobering effects only come to light only when one is confronted with the reality of it all.
The date of the wedding had arrived, and there we were in Yerevan looking forward to this day with great enthusiasm. The service was in the newly constructed St. Anna Church in Yerevan. This lovely church is built on the grounds of an ancient Basilica that was demolished by the Soviets in 1936.
St. Anna now stands proudly alongside a stunning, 13th century chapel named ‘The Gatoghige,’ which was miraculously discovered entombed inside the Basilica during its demolition. With the protestations of the public, it was saved from destruction.
Some of the guests were already seated when we arrived at the church. All were beautifully dressed and wonderfully coiffured. Everyone looked elegant. There was a great atmosphere, yet, the guests seemed to be somehow subdued. Gazing around the church, I noticed the scene was the same all around.
It did not take me long to realize that we were among Armenians from Syria. My heart sank, as I became conscious that in fact, all those people were not just tourists, rather recent refugees!
There were no other thoughts on my mind at that moment. It was difficult to comprehend that most of these guests are just like the thousands fleeing Syria. Their homes had been destroyed, their towns turned into rubble, their neighborhoods, churches, schools all in danger of total destruction that has now become one of the greatest tragedies of our times.
With all that to contend with, I realized that this beautiful bride and her family had been given no choice but to flee and take the perilous journey through unsafe routes to find refuge in the country they knew would give them sanctuary — their homeland, Armenia!
It was impossible not to reflect back a hundred years. At that time, Armenians fleeing the horrors of the Genocide and Ottoman death marches through the scorching deserts of Der Zor had found sanctuary in Syria.
A land, whose leaders and population had reached out and rescued them.
Thus, from the ashes, a handful of survivors and orphaned children were able to live again as Armenians.
They brought up families, created businesses, build friendships, relationships and most of all established a vibrant, active community that had become one of the most significant centers for the Armenian Diaspora; a hub of culture and revival.
Alas, on the threshold of the centenary of the genocide, the descendants of those Armenians have taken to the road again as refugees, leaving behind their homes, and a shattered community, as the country that had been their home for so long, has plunged into a protracted civil war.
My thoughts returned to the wedding again. I gazed at the beautiful bride and groom, two young people, who had crossed difficult and different paths to unite again, and be married in this peaceful place, in the serenity of this lovely church in Yerevan.
I finally understood the impact and the meaning of this day, when the bride’s mother approached me after the wedding, with a smile, and tears glistening her eyes, said, “I am sure my daughter will be happy in Australia.”
Then added, ‘She is a fine young woman; please take good care of her.” Her words pierced my soul. These were the words of a mother who had accepted her fate. She knew she would be separated from her child living in different lands. Sadness overwhelmed me; I could not utter a word. What was there to say? This is the reality of our times.
No matter what fate may have in store, the Armenian people always confront all adversity, and continue to flourish anywhere, armed with the resilience that has become the mark and characteristic of this proud nation.