A Good Time and a Good Cause in Worcester
Four Armenian Churches in the Worcester area are coming together for the seventh year in a row to serve a higher purpose: helping Armenian refugees fleeing Syria in the wake of its destruction.
On September 29, the four churches — Armenian Church of the Martyrs, Armenian Church of Our Saviour, Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church and Soorp Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church — will host a dance at the Cultural Center of the Armenian Church of Our Saviour to raise money to help families fleeing Syria start new lives in North America.
All funds raised will aid refugees from Syria. Half will go to the Fund for Armenian Relief of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (FAR) and the other to the First Armenian Evangelical Church of Montreal, which is collaborating with the “Hay Doun” organization in conjunction with the Canadian Government to obtain immigration rights for Syrian refugees.
According to the organizers, since 2015, more than 1,000 families have arrived in Montreal, and another 300 families arrived in 2017. The Montreal church welcomes the Syrian Armenian families who arrive there and offers moral, spiritual and psychological support; provides temporary housing in the church complex or at homes of families within the church and the Armenian community at large; pays for hotel rooms; orients the families to integrate in the city life, such as administrative support, transportation, schooling, learning the language, finding jobs, helps them to find affordable housing and in some cases provides the rent of initial months; and provides all kinds of basic furnishing and warm clothing.
The Armenian Missionary Association of America is also assisting the church financially to continue this ministry.
“This year we are also giving to FAR,” he said, as one of the committee members suggested it.
Money given to FAR is sent to Syrian-Armenian refugees arriving in Armenia.
Every year the program has taken place at the Church of Our Saviour because it has the largest hall.Bob Babigian, a member of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, was one of the original proponents of the idea. Babigian expressed his frustration with the dearth of news about the plight of the Syrians. He also noted that half the aid money is going to Canada because of US policies reducing the number of refugees to Historic lows. “This country is not doing a lot about it. Last year all proceeds went to Canada,” he said, because “the US is not admitting them. We don’t hear about any of them coming to the US.”
He added, “This year the money will go to the church in Canada that is bringing in 400 families each year. They house them, get them cars, appliances, food, etc.”
Babigian noted the Canadian government offers some help for about a year to the newcomers.
He said, an Armenian-American man living in a large home in Western Massachusetts, recently made his house available to several families if they came to the US, “but we are not aware of any of them coming into the US” to take advantage of the offer.
The most raised one year at the dance was $10,000 Babigian said. More recently the figure dipped to about $4,500 because of expenses.
This year, Babigian said, the group is optimistic the proceeds will be higher, as the group is using local musical talent and is also offering a raffle.
Talented local musicians will entertain guests, playing fun songs from a variety of genres. The band will feature Mark Der Mugrditchian on clarinet and dumbek; Kevin Magarian on guitar; and Arthur Chingris on dumbek with special guests Greg Krikorian on oud and vocals and George Reghellis on guitar and vocals.
Babigian has been a lifelong Worcester resident. He got the idea for the collaborative effort from the Knights of Vartan, whose members host an annual program in June handing out scholarships to high school graduates. “They don’t look to see which church they go to. They give the kids little Armenian flags” as well as a small gift, Babigian said.
“Sitting there one night [at the Knights of Vartan program] I thought it is not this church or that church. I got the idea that the churches should do this together,” he said.
Babigian, a retired dentist, and his wife, have three adult children.
Another member of the committee is Nicole L. Malo. Born and raised in Worcester, Malo said that she wants to give back and do something for the community. And the plight of Syrians is one that has tugged at her heart. “There is a part of that resonated with me,” she said.
As with the case of many people in the Armenian-American community, she is a descendent of survivors of the Armenian Genocide. “My grandfather and his mother came” from Chmshgadzak, modern Turkey, as refugees. “What you learn is that every family has one of those stories. There is something to be said for being humble” about one’s background, she said.
Her grandfather, she said, was separated from his mother and finally reconnected after years.
She was baptized in Holy Trinity Armenian Church, she said, but she called herself “a wandering Christian.” She explained that she has attended many churches in Worcester as well as greater Boston.
She currently works in development and thought that she would be able to use her job skills to her volunteer efforts. “In some little way some of my experience could help with the dance,” she said. “It is great fun and a great mission.”
Since 2015, the First Armenian Evangelical Church of Montreal has helped hundreds assimilate to their new surroundings. Last year’s dance efforts helped over 300 families start a new life in Canada, and that number is expected to be matched or grow this year. There are currently 8.4 million Syrian children residing as refugees in neighboring countries. That is 80 percent of Syria’s children. And now over 22,000 Syrian-Armenians have resettled in Armenia.
Like her fellow committee member Babigian, she decried the government opposition to refugees resettling here in the US. “Unfortunately, in America, if there is one thing we can change, it is that we are not helping any refugees,” she said.
She also praised “great friends” in Montreal who are helping the refugees.
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