Harout Tokatlian: “Armenia is ours and the only one for us in this world”

“Armenia is our Fatherland, and Syria is our Motherland”-Zarmineh Tokatlian-Minasian

Syria is still in a war. More and more structures and buildings are being destroyed day after day, and the death toll is rising. Most of the Syrian-Armenians in the Homeland left their homes and stores there and didn’t even manage to sell them and buy homes in Armenia. They probably didn’t even imagine that the war would take this long and hadn’t thought about the gravity of the situation. They thought that the nightmare would end soon and that they would return and protect Armenian culture, spiritual values, as well as homes and stores. Nevertheless, they had to continue their lives in the Homeland, find jobs and have a place to call home. With the moral and financial support from the Armenian government and particularly the RA Ministry of Diaspora, many Syrian-Armenians found jobs, rented apartments, received humanitarian assistance and slowly integrated into social life, the new environment and learned the new lifestyle, but of course, they hope for and have faith in the liberation of their beloved hometown and the reestablishment of peace. The RA Ministry of Diaspora and the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues NGO always focus on the issues facing Syrian-Armenians and try to find ways to solve those issues.

…Most of the repatriates whom I have met have already adapted to the new environment and found jobs. Some have built a house or purchased an apartment, while others still live on rent. The multitalented Syrian-Armenians, who are scholars, doctors, teachers, writers, musicians, jewelers, skillful masters in making handmade items, chefs and smithies, have started their businesses in Armenia, opening cafes, stores and restaurants and their medical clinics. Recently I visited the store called “Chicken Meals of Aleppo”, which is located at 20 Paronyan Street and which I had heard about a lot. The owners of the store, Mrrs. Zarmineh and Mr. Harut, greeted me from the beautiful balcony that looked like a garden on the second floor of the small two-story store. The kindness on Mr. Harut’s face and his smile are certainly the best guarantee for more customers, and you must simply see how much of a pleasure it is for Zarmineh and Harout to serve their customers. Interrupting them, I tried to find out their intentions to move to Armenia, hear about their worries and problems, and now I present them to the thousands of readers of Hayern Aysor electronic newspaper.

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Zarmineh Tokatlian-Minasian: We have been in Yerevan for three years. We are trying to adapt to the new environment and the new conditions. This store is our source of income. Sometimes our relatives help us run the store. We have our permanent customers who come to our store because of the variety and quality of our products. We use whatever is good and fresh when making the convenience foods. The Syrian-Armenians are very gifted. The women know how to sew and embroider. They are wonderful housewives and set a good example as mothers. They make very tasty dishes and pastry for their families. The men are chefs, craftsmen and merchants, as well as good fathers and husbands. One time, while I was participating in an exhibition-sale in Yerevan (I saw you there, I just remembered), a local Armenian man approached me and asked: “All you Syrian-Armenians do trade and make dishes. Don’t you have scholars, doctors and other professionals?”

I looked at that man in amazement and told him that we did. I was very offended. We had and have all kinds of professionals, including doctors, scholars, scientists, engineers, teachers, writers, singers and musicians. My brother Mher Minasian, who is an engineer by profession, also interpreted folk songs very well in Aleppo. He trained his voice, sang and collected old Armenian songs. He has just arrived in Armenia, but will be leaving for Canada. My husband started working as a jeweler at first, but later changed his job. We Syrian-Armenians have had many great masters with “golden hands”, and thank God, we still do.

You know a person more for the work that he has done. In Aleppo, we had a similar store, and everyone knew us. Everything was going good. It wasn’t hard to earn a living, as it is here. However, Yerevan has all that we lacked in Syria. It’s safe here, everything is beautiful. We love our Homeland, but we feel a little strange here. The locals are a little rude and sullen. People here speak more than the people in Syria, and they speak fast too. When they talk to us, they use many strange and foreign words in Russian, Persian and Turkish…They say “vekalem (vertsnem), we wouldn’t understand what they were saying, but we learned after six months. They use the words haiat (yard), televizor, khaladelnik, dukhovka (oven), helnem, etam… We use the Armenian words maghadanos or azatkegh for parsley, they say “petrushka”, they refer to the pack of herbs as dasta and tell us “mi dasta kanachi tveq” (give us a pack of herbs), we say stepghin, smbuk (eggplant), etc…We thought the Armenians in Armenia spoke pure Armenian and that I would learn more beautiful words. The Armenians in Syria are more conventional, love their families more, have more faith and are more patriotic. We don’t mix foreign words in the Western Armenian language. We rarely use Arabic words. Armenia was an ideal for us in Syria, but now that is something we desire. I must say that we miss Syria, particularly Aleppo. After all, it is the place where we, our parents and our children were born. We cried a lot for Syria. We have no more tears to shed. They have dried, but we cry in our souls. Armenia is our Fatherland, and Syria is our Motherland. We would really like to see our Homeland be the strongest of all, majestic and be like the Homeland of our dreams, a place where all Armenians will speak purely in Armenian and live the good life. We wouldn’t like to see beggars on streets. There were no beggars in the Homeland of my dreams…The Armenians deserve to live the good life.

Harout Tokatlian: As my wife said, we are trying to adapt, and it seems as though we have adapted. We rented this area by ourselves, turned it into a store, and now we make convenience foods from chicken meat and beef. They are the dishes of Aleppo that you simply need to heat or fry. Zarmineh is the manager, and I make the food. However, we help each other out. We have two sons, one of which is abroad, and the other is here, but he is unemployed. We have rented an apartment nearby. We pay our rent and the expenses for the area and raw material. After all the expenses are made, we aren’t left with much money. The dishes of Aleppo made from beef and chicken meat, including the ishli kufta, chicken ribs, manti, kebab, stuffed legs and other meals are in high demand, and they are affordable. However, there aren’t many buyers. Not many people know about our store because it’s not on the street. We have many Syrian-Armenian and Iranian-Armenian customers. We want the locals to know about those tasty foods and come to our store often. It would be our pleasure to show them how we make the meals. We live like this, but we wait for the Syrian war to end every day so that we can sell our house in Aleppo and buy a house in Armenia. Instead of paying rent (AMD 150,000), we can add the money earned over the past three years to the money from the sale of our house in Aleppo and live in our own house. Unfortunately, our house is worth very little now that Syria is in a war. It’s not safe in Syria. I only want to spend the rest of my life in my Homeland. This is my home. It’s dangerous everywhere. There are bad things and bad people everywhere. It’s good in Armenia. The only difficult thing is finding a job and earning money. If those problems are solved, Armenia is ours and the only one for us in this world.

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