At a major donor conference in Yerevan, the Armenian Redwood Project (ARP) announced that a broad coalition of diaspora philanthropists and organizations had pledged up to $350,000 to significantly augment the emergency housing-assistance program in Armenia for Syrian-Armenian refugees. These funds will be essential in continuing the program – initiated by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – in 2016.
Donors include philanthropists Gerald Turpanjian, Carolyn Mugar, and Zaven Akian, in addition to the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Jinishian Memorial Foundation, the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, The Ani and Narod Memorial Foundation, Denmark’s Mission East Armenia Branch, and The Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF), along with the project’s in-country partner Oxfam Armenia.
According to the Government of Armenia (GoA), over 20,000 Syrian-Armenian refugees have sought refuge in Armenia, where many are still struggling to rebuild lives with limited support. Adequately addressing the housing crisis of refugees seems to be beyond the means of the GoA or any one organization alone. As such, ARP was established as a collaborative platform to help provide refugees with vital humanitarian assistance. Functioning in part as an alliance between diaspora benefactors and foundations and in part as international aid agency partner, ARP’s consortium’s new pledge aims to help Syrian-Armenian families in Armenia secure and maintain affordable housing in the form of rent subsidies.
“Affordable housing has emerged through the process of identifying what we want to accomplish for our brothers and sisters who have taken refuge in Armenia,” said ARP
Chief Action Officer Raffy Ardhaldjian. “The housing assistance which we provide complements what the Armenian government is doing and it’s where we can have the greatest impact. The cause of Syrian refugees is the humanitarian test of our times, and we’ve been humbled by the support we’ve received from around the world.”
In 2015, close to 1,000 Syrian-Armenian families in Armenia benefited from the joint rental-subsidy program, which was managed by the UNHCR and Oxfam.
“As a host country, Armenia has been absolutely exemplary in terms of the ratio of welcomed Syrian-Armenian refugees to the number of native inhabitants,” said UNHCR Representative in Armenia Christoph Bierwirth. Armenia hosts six Syrian refugees per 1,000 nationals – a ratio much higher than many European countries or the US, especially noteworthy given the country’s economic circumstance.
While UNHCR has committed to continuing its Syrian-Armenian relief efforts in 2016, it announced a budget reduction in the program, reflecting the exhausted resources of humanitarian agencies throughout the region. In response to the UNHCR budget reduction, ARP mobilized a cross section of diaspora philanthropists and organizations, and partnered with Oxfam Armenia, in order to supplement the UNHCR housing-assistance program in 2016, thereby fulfilling the budgetary shortfall.
In this effort, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, the Primate of the Western Diocese in Los Angeles, has played a key role in rallying the diaspora’s support. “Although displacement is a part of our common history, the diaspora’s mobilization today will prevent displacement from also being a part of our common future,” said Archbishop Derderian.
“Our collective conscience alone cannot make a difference without sufficient funding to realize a project such as this which ensures, to some degree, that the displaced families live in their homeland with dignity. Furthermore, we are confident that the support of the Armenian diaspora at this time will pave the way for additional assistance provided to our Syrian-Armenian compatriots.”
Oxfam Armenia Country Director Margarita Hakobyan said that by addressing the immediate housing problems of displaced Syrian families, the rental-subsidy program contributes to securing sustainable livelihoods for hundreds of Syrian-Armenian families in 2015 who started new lives in Armenia – the land of their ancestors.
“However, due to the escalation of war in Syria, the influx of displaced Armenians from Syria continues, and the need for housing is increasing. Therefore, there is high urgency to mobilize our joint efforts in supporting displaced Syrian-Armenians in 2016, and I am sure together we can do it,“ Hakobyan added.
Thanks to the support provided by both UNHCR and the Armenian Diaspora consortium with Oxfam, over 500 vulnerable Syrian-Armenian refugee families in Armenia will be eligible to continue to receive housing assistance in 2016. The rental subsidies aim at creating an interim safety net in their lives.
“High housing costs in Armenia make it nearly impossible for Syrian-Armenian refugees to make ends meet,” Ardhaldjian explained. “The significance of housing assistance becomes amply evident when you consider that most Syrian-Armenian refugees arrive in Armenia with little or no savings these days; that, on average, only one person per refugee household works due to the lack of job opportunities; and that a whopping 69 percent of a refugee family’s income is spent on monthly housing costs on average.” Furthermore, Ardhaldjian added that “rental subsidies are a proven best practice in terms of direct aid distribution to vulnerable refugees.”
SARF, which recently raised more than $1.2 million during its inaugural “Save a Life” telethon in Los Angeles, has been a strategic partner in this project and announced its commitment to the 2016 program with a $50,000 grant.
“Whether temporary or permanent, settling Syrian-Armenian refugees in Armenia is a natural choice. SARF, for the second year, participates in the consortium of diaspora donors in helping provide rental subsidy for hundreds of displaced families. By complementing the free education and healthcare services provided by the Government of Armenia, we ultimately hope to bring some normalcy to the lives of refugees as they move on to finding more permanent solutions,” said SARF Co-Chair John Tititizian.
Gulbenkian Foundation’s Armenian Communities Department Director Dr. Razmik Panossian, a major supporter of the program, also expressed the Gulbenkian Foundation’s ongoing endorsement.
“We are very pleased to support ARP’s initiative to help Syrian-Armenian refugees in Armenia,” said Panossian. “The project has identified a real need, and mobilized support in an exemplary manner, drawing on the expertise and resources of key institutions such as the UNHCR, Oxfam, the Government of Armenia and civil society. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation commits to provide funding in 2016 to assist with the housing needs of the refugees in Armenia.”
The 2016 program will include a social services component intended to improve the socioeconomic conditions of not only newly arriving Syrian refugees but also of the hundreds of refugee families already enrolled in the program.
Collectively, this humanitarian intervention is one of the largest continuing programs targeting Syrian refugees in Armenia.
Photo Caption 1: Raffy Ardhaldjian (Photo courtesy of AGBU Yerevan)
Photo Caption 2: UNHCR Representative in Armenia Christoph Bierwirth and UN Resident Coordinator in Armenia Bradley Busetto (Photo courtesy of AGBU Armenia)
Photo Caption 3: Archbishop Hovnan Derderian (Photo courtesy of
Darlene Wendels/The Collegian)
Photo Caption 4: Margarita Hakobyan (Photo courtesy of
Photo Caption 5: SARF Co-Chairs John Titizian and Raffi Kendirdjian
Photo Caption 6: Dr. Razmik Panossian (Photo courtesy of
Photo Caption 7: Syrian refugee beneficiaries of the the Rent Subsidy Program in Armenia. (Photo courtesy of
James Aram Elliot on assignment with the Armenian Redwood Project)