An Armenian Family’s Journey from Kobani to Armenia

The Tomasian family after having arrived at Yerevan's Zvartnots Airport

The Tomasian family after having arrived at Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport

Together, We Brought Them Home After 100 Years Of Exile


As the world has been watching the flow of desperate migrants from the Middle East hoping to reach Europe, some 2,600 migrants have drowned while more than 350,000 migrants have risked their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean the UN says.

And as the photos of a drowned Syrian boy sparked outcry today near the vacation town of Bodrum in Turkey, we actually wanted to report some happy news to our constituents. The Tomassian family , one of the last Armenian families in Kobani, Syria (Arab Pinar known for many Armenian refugees who settled there around 1915 fleeing the Armenian genocide) who fled their homes and has been living in a UN tent camp in Suruc, (Southern Turkey) landed in Yerevan, Armenia this week. They were greeted by social workers, the media, some relatives and many welcoming compatriots.

Tomassian family members greet one another at Yerevan's airport

Tomassian family members greet one another at Yerevan’s airport

A lot of work went into getting the Tomassian family out of their difficult conditions of a tent camp and into the urban environment of Yerevan. Many should be credited for the exemplary humanitarian work. Most notably Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the Locum Tenens the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul, who personally took it upon himself to assist this family.

We should also mention various governmental and non-governmental institutions who each did their share separately to affect the happy outcome, including the Ministry of the Diaspora within the Government of Armenia, the team at Agos Newspaper in Istanbul, UNHCR, the Red Cross, Mission Armenia NGO and the Government of Turkey, among many others who will remain unnamed.

This was a tale of a family that has touched us and many others on a personal level, as we related with their plight as refugees. There were many moments of despair in the last few months when obstacles doomed and prospects for the Tomassians looked dark and hopeless. We were pleasantly surprised as to how many friends contributed their small share (i.e. housing family members, or pick ups from the airport) throughout the journey. And with every obstacle, there was more goodwill outpouring from everywhere. At the end, light out shinned darkness.

Now finally, the Tomassian children can play in safe playgrounds again like normal children do.

At the Armenian Redwood Project, we have long maintained that efforts by various Armenian stakeholders (whether in the diaspora, Syria, or Armenia) to address this crisis have been fragmented, with each entity focusing on doing its own thing. Besides the Tomassians, we know many of cases that need immediate intervention today through professional/coordinated institutional means. In addition to emergency response, refugee families will also need post-conflict efforts to assist displaced refugees, such as integration in new communities, creation of jobs, provision of affordable housing, education, healthcare, for years to come.

The family at the refugee camp

The family at the refugee camp

If we are a surviving nation worth its grain, we cannot solve our way out of this mess by looking the other way and just letting westward migration be the answer.

We strongly feel that all Armenian leaders who spoke so eloquently in April 2015, in commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, now have the opportunity — and obligation — to address a global (and a national) issue that has spiraled into epic proportions.

But until then, the award goes to the Tomassian family who has survived exile and is ready to re-build a new life again in Armenia, in the tradition of our ancestors.

On Saturday, the other Tomassian daughter will be joining her clan in Yerevan with her own family from their refuge in Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon and thus a large family disseminated by a cruel war will be (God willing) reunited once again.

Arch. Aram Ateshian of the Istanbul Patriarchate

Arch. Aram Ateshian of the Istanbul Patriarchate

This refugee tale might sound like a postcard from far away; but it reflects the reality of thousands of Syrian families. Not all of them will be as lucky as the Tomassians.

For now, its September again. Schools will welcome the Tomassian children again in Armenia. We can sleep comfortably knowing that another refugee family has made it to safety and will be sleeping in normal beds again after 3 long years of exile.

Our condolences goes to the Tomassian family for the senseless loss of their brother at the hands of ISIS criminals in Kobani as initially reported by Hurriyet daily news. Our heartfelt feelings also to the recently widowed Ilona , and her surviving children Aram, Vartoug and Garo. Time will heal, as new lives will sprout.

The two brothers have hopes to support the family and rebuild again, just like their grandparents did so a 100 years ago when they first arrived as refugees in Kobani.

We are happy today and we join our fellow German soccer fans who recently reminded their leaders how they felt about the refugees crisis.

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