On the Georgia-Armenia border, we were forced to wait quite a long time. Apparently, there was something amiss with the passport of one of our fellow travelers.
“They’re from Syria. They’ll look and then send you back,” said the irritated driver.
“Just look at all the money they collect at the marathons,” said the red-haired woman.
They came. Turns out there were some errors in the children’s passports. A family-the parents and their children, aged two and four years.
They were from Syria. They had come to Armenia two months ago. Now they were coming from Georgia.
“We fled the war in Syria. On the day we left, when there was heaving shelling, an Armenian taxi driver cam and took us to the airport. My husband couldn’t even see his ailing bed-ridden father to say goodbye. He only lived one hundred meters from us. The shells were falling all around us. It’s a miracle we weren’t killed,” recounts Helen Tarchinian.
They somehow bought a ticket for double the price for a plane flying to Armenia. All they got when they arrived in Yerevan was a booklet with the telephone number of a legal advice agency. There was nothing of the “Ari Toun” (Come Home) welcome espoused by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.
“We rang that number and they demanded $100 for legal advice. We never got in touch with them again,” says Sayid Garikian, Helen’s husband.
The couple rented an apartment in Yerevan and started to look for work. Their Armenian odyssey had begun.
In their search to gain a footing, what amazed them the most was the indifference of Armenian authorities regarding the Armenians left behind in Syria.
“There are many Armenians in a terrible state in Syria who dream about fleeing, but those who come here are in worse shape. Many just want to return and die honorably rather than stay in Armenia and live a beggar’s life. I now people who have returned disgusted,” Sayid says.
As we were talking, little Aleks started to cry. He was tired from the long trip. “We’ve becoming wanderers with our kids,” mutters Helen to herself.
- Why did you go to Georgia? I ask
- To find work. The conditions there are better. A knowledge of English is better valued. In Armenia, they only want Russian speakers. But even if I knew Russian I wouldn’t get hired. I have no contacts”
- Isn’t it the same in Georgia?
- It’s not like that there. We’ve now come to Armenia to resolve our children’s passport problems. When it’s done, we’ll return to Georgia. At least there is hope that things will be better there. In Armenia, when they find out you are from Syria they try to trick you, to get something from you.
Sayid is a pharmacist. Many have promised him employment but nothing has happened. The family’s savings will soon run out.
The family saw going to Georgia as the only way out. They’ve spent the last two weeks there and have realized that their chances at finding work are greater.
They regard both Syria and Armenia as their homeland. Now, however, they have been forced to look for another homeland.
They feel slighted and insulted by official in Armenia and shocked at the local attitudes.
“Once, I went to the Yerevan Municipality with a question. I entered the room and saw that the workers were celebrating somebody’s birthday. A worker told me to come back another time. She said, ‘don’t you see we are busy with a birthday party?' His wife chides him for telling the story, but Sayid was very hurt by the incident.
Later, they suddenly remember that the Armenian driver in Syria who had driven them to the airport had been killed by the rebels.
“I didn’t say farewell to my father. My parents stayed in Syria…” We do not speak.
Helen got out in Spitak to look for relatives. Sayid travelled on to Yerevan
In the taxi, the passengers were laughing and telling jokes. Sayid was withdrawn. Perhaps he didn’t “get” their humor. Perhaps it was even illogical to his ears.
P.S. After arriving in Armenia, I found Helen on Facebook. She said that they had relocated to Georgia for good.