Sarine Mihranian

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Sarine visiting a friend. 

I was at home and my mom was in Gemmayze. She works at Mayrig Restaurant. When I heard the first blast I remembered from the war that the first thing you need to do is open the windows. Right away I opened the windows and ran to the bathroom because I remember they used to say bathrooms are the safest place. I saw my father, his face was injured but we could not find my mother. She eventually called but we could not go pick her up, she had to walk half the way, with an injured head. She got ten stitches. It was very scary, I can’t believe my mother was able to make it out of there. The worst was that we did not know if we had been attacked, if there were going to be more blasts, we did not know where to hide in the panic. You keep expecting there is going to be another one, that Israel has attacked. Even now I think if I’m not alert something is going to happen again.

I had an amazing job. It shut down on June 1, but I was still hopeful that this is just a phase, that eventually things will pick up but with this blast you understand that this is it. I used to organize regional technological conferences, financial technology and digital banking conference production, now the whole company is closed. 

And the sad part is that what gives us hope is the assistance from other countries. We are so neglected that when someone sends us a loaf of bread we feel like it is a big deal, you just want to go hug them, you think there is hope, someone is looking out for us. That is the saddest part. They opened hospitals, made us feel safer. 

You know what else is the problem? We are the generation of the war, we came out of war and we tried to make a difference, we stayed in the country and tried to build it, all the while carrying the PTSD that accompanied us since childhood. Sometimes I think it was stupid of me to spend my twenties in this country believing that it will change. What was I thinking? 

I do not think that it is late for me to leave now, but if I’m going to go to a country and start building again, the least I need is some kind of safety. People say go to Armenia, which would be a very good option for us. But how am I going to find a job? We have been surviving on our savings for months now, we cannot fall back on any savings to survive in Armenia until we figure things out. There are people who will help us but at the end of the day there are limits to how long we can count on other people’s assistance. It is definitely a million times better than here but Armenia has not reached its full potential yet either, there is the youth there the country needs to think about also. There are at least basic human rights there but the problem of employment remains. 

We are thinking of saving whatever we can save so that we can go. We know the language and we know the culture there, and there are people who have offered us a place to stay. And it is not like I expect to pick up where I left off here. If I need to wait tables for a wage I will do that, I do not care that is how fed up I am. You know whatever is happening in Lebanon is not going to end here, there are many things happening that we are not aware of, we still don’t know what caused the explosion. Imagine if there was no lockdown and all those restaurants and cafes were working, the casualties would have been in the thousands. I’m just scared that now we are still busy, people are here, people are coming to see us, talk to us. Once they leave and we are left alone, that is when it is going to hit us, our real life. 

We have grown accustomed to thinking that we are a minority, there is no direct target for you but this one was a national disaster and the Armenian community was badly hit. All these areas, Mar Michel, Gemmeyzi, Hajin, Quarantina, Bourj Hammoud, the badly hit areas are home to a lot of Amrenians. And unfortunately, having been here all this time, at the end of the day you are still not considered Lebanese enough. To be born here, to have gone through everything this country has gone through, to have fought to build a better future here and at the end of the day to still be considered the “other” is hurtful. To go to another country and still be considered the other is not as hurtful because you know that you still have not done anything for that place. Here we are in survival mode, there is no room to think about growth, you just have to be thankful if you have a house, food and are healthy. This blast was the nail in the coffin. 

Harout Shishmanian 

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Harout at the Center Medico-Social where he was able to get help. 

I go down to Gemmeyzi often, I walk there for exercise. I did not even hear the first blast. I was right across the Port and caught a glimpse of the fire and was looking at what was happening when the second blast hit and threw me four-five metres into the air. Then I heard the sound of glass breaking and rocks falling all around me. I was on the floor unable to move for what I think was 15-20 minutes, I could just feel the terrible bleeding from my head. Had I been able to move I would not even have known what to do because you could not see anything from the smoke and the dust. 

My initial thought was that the street I was on had been bombed. I had a hard time getting up because I had already lost a lot of blood. I saw the place was in ruins and there were dead bodies all around. When I was on the ground, I felt a hand on me, by the time I got up the man had died. I tried to make it to the hospital in that neighborhood. I could not walk because glass had pierced through my sneakers and into my feet but I knew if I waited I would bleed to death, there was no chance an ambulance could reach us.

The hospital was in ruins and they turned me away. I walked to the hospital in Achrafieh but it took me two, three hours to get there. The situation was the same there, they were evacuating their own patients, trying to send them off to other hospitals. Then I made it to the hospital in Geitawi, it was God's will that I made it there, I knew I did not have time. Luckily at this point there were cars around and one gave me a ride to the hospital. I’m not exaggerating, there were about 500 people in the parking lot being treated. I was lucky a doctor saw me and bandaged my head, no scanning no nothing, I felt like my head was cut in half. He told me he could not do more for me at the moment and told me to wait my turn in the parking lot. He said it will be hours, that I might have to spend the night there. 

Meanwhile my family knew that I was in Gemmayze and I could not sit there waiting for the doctors while my family was looking for me. I decided to go to the neighborhood (Hajn) church where the Tarmanadoun [medical center] is, and figured they would take care of me there. A car picked me up and drove me all the way to the door of the church. I asked the first person I saw to let my family know that I’m alive. We went to three other hospitals after that until we found a hospital outside of Beirut to treat me. I was hospitalized for two days but today I’m here sitting across from you. I’m doing much better. Thank God no one else from the family was hurt. The damage to the house was the usual, broken glass, hanging ceilings that came down but no major destruction. 

We are going to try to recover from this but believe me I do not know how. Economically, the country has collapsed, the currency has devalued, you name it, we suffered from it. I’ve been out of a job for eight-nine months now. I was working part time since the protests began and have not worked since the coronavirus lockdown and now, the blast. You know, Armenians have always been resilient, have always stood back up and we are going to try to do the same again. I used to work in the shoemaking industry, and will do my best to work again. 

I have no chances of leaving, have no one in either America or Europe or Armenia. I have an 80-year-old mother who had surgery two months ago and is bedridden since and will be for a couple of months still. She had a knee replacement and I cannot leave her. My sister’s husband passed away sometime ago, her son was the one supporting the family. He lost his job due to coronavirus too and they could not afford rent. They now live with us. So how can I go anywhere now?

Lebanon has been our homeland but there comes a time when you feel like you are a foreigner here, despite having suffered with the country through everything. If you have nowhere to go then you cannot go anywhere. But I think if one day it happens, that we all end up in Armenia, I think we will be happier. 

Viken Keshishian

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Viken at home talking about his painitngs. 

I was at home on the couch and my sister was on the balcony. I heard the first blast and started calling my sister to come inside. Then the second one hit and it seemed like the house turned inside out. We tried running down the stairs but it was not easy. I can just tell you that the situation is dire. The Armenian people especially are in bad shape. If only a door opens the people will leave and that is all we ask. It has happened before, there were opportunities [repatriation plans] but the community leadership was against it. Now I want the Armenians to get out. We might as well all gather in Armenia, it is the same blood. And do not think the other Armenian communities on this coast of the Mediterranean are doing better. I can tell you that whatever is happening in Armenia, you are definitely better off. I have not worked for eight months, I keep looking for a job but I don’t think I will find one. Companies are closing down, small shops are closing down and if we die the government would just step on our corpses and move on. No one has asked after us since the blast, not just us, not even the families of people who died. 

My only wish is to go to Australia, I have a friend there. If others want to go to Armenia then I hope they get the help they need there. I have not been to Australia but it is my dream to live there. I’ve heard so much about it and how wonderful it is, I think there are 50,000 Amrenians there. 

We are living for the sake of being alive but in reality, we are being killed over and over again here. 

 

Haigazoun Zeitlian

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Haigazoun at the second floor of his shop where he sells children's clothing.

My shop suffered the same fate as the rest of the shops here, no glasses, all the merchandise flew all over the place. I’m not going to repair the shop windows just yet, I will wait and see what happens next. Something else will happen tomorrow or the day after. Let us see what happens politically and see what situation we end up in. We have had this shop since 1955. First my eldest brother moved here from Anjar and started the business then the middle one came and then I came. We worked through the civil war, tried to keep the community together and we reached this day. My brothers are both gone, and it is me keeping the shop going. 

We will repair and the community here will again be strong. It is necessary so that we can help Armenia and I hope the coronavirus situation improves there. My wife and I are settled here and do not want to leave. My children, however, are all over the world, one is in New York, one in Toronto, another in Montreal.  

 

Antranig Chaoushian

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Antranig at his shop where he sews handbags and leather belts. 

I’m fast you know. As soon as I heard the first blast I got out of the shop and the windows came down. Then I saw rubble in front of the building and wounded people. I ran home, we live across the street. I found my wife on the floor, hurt. This was Hiroshima. You know, it has been 40-50 years that these neighborhoods are being destroyed and rebuilt. We have been protecting these neighborhoods since 1973 and keep on doing that. The situation in the county is very bad but we cannot give up. You know, I could have gone to Canada when I was young and unmarried but it was my duty to stay here and create a family here. We cannot leave the skeletons from the Armenian Genocide unattended here at Antelias [The Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia]. Armenia now needs its diaspora and this is our strength. There is the country of Armenia and there is the diaspora that fights for the Armenian cause in parliaments across the world.

The same Mongol Tatars that put on a shirt, called themselves Turks and killed Armenians are now continuing their work; they are now generating anti-Armenian sentiments here, where the government does not even know how to take care of its citizens. Your passport means nothing here. All that matters is the community you belong to. Those on top only care about their own families and their money. 

Armenia is home to all Armenians but we need to have two homes to be stronger, one here one there. People have been leaving this country every day since 1975 and if there are only 50 of us left, then I will be one of them. My family went from Izmir to Bulgaria and then came here. I could have gone back to Bulgaria but I did not. But everyone needs to build their own home. I built this shop through my own hard work. You see this sewing machine here, it has worked for 40 years and as long as I’m around, it will continue to work with me. 

 

Maral Poladian

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Maral at home looking after her neighbor's son Lucas. 

I jumped off the couch when I heard the blast and then the doors started flying around. A piece of glass pierced through my upper lip, it came out just yesterday. I tried running down the stairs but the blast kept throwing me in the opposite direction. I reached the street and heard my brother yelling out my name. There were people barefoot on the street running around on broken glass. You know how to protect yourself if there is a war but this time it was like your house, your safe zone exploding. 

I keep thinking there is going to be another blast. We were already fighting to live day-by-day, now it is hour-to-hour. I think at least here we have each other's back, we support one another, let us say we leave, you need time to build a community around you and how are you going to survive meanwhile while you are alone? You know, my Armenian passport is ready, it is in Armenia, I was going to go pick it up but then the pandemic started. The passport is waiting for me in Armenia, I’ll go one day to pick it up. 

I’m a life coach, what I’m trying to do now is help people in need but I had to postpone today’s session because we were not able to clean up the space properly. I tried to get some work online, but can’t because the banks are not working. My site is ready, everything is set up for drop shipping but I’m not able to get a bank card to sell anything, this was my side business. I used to work at a factory with 250 employees for eight years and it closed down. Then I got a space on our street and the Lira devalued and I could not pay the rent. I moved my office to the house where the windows are broken. We were trying to get a small cafe going right here on the corner, that space too is now destroyed. Everything I’ve initiated in the last eight months has resulted in nothing. If I had invested this much time and energy in any other country it would have resulted in something.   
 

Vanig Dakessian

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Vanig who is the Armenian Educational Benevolent Union committee secretary at the center's premises in Beirut. 

We opened up the medical center here at the church right after the blast. The facility was badly damaged so we brought everything out to the yard to be able to treat people. There was no electricity, so we had to get the generator going, we did not have sufficient tetanus shots so we had to somehow procure enough. About 57 people needed stitches that evening. People from all over the place who could not get into hospitals because their injuries were not life-threatening were coming here. People were coming until 3:30 in the morning, it was beyond our capacity but we could not turn people away. We treated a two-year old with a torn lip and cuts all over her face to 80-year-olds. There are people with serious injuries, people who lost an eye. 

The Armenian community and the people of Lebanon are frustrated. The economic situation started heading downhill three years ago and with the recent unemployment rates and the devaluation of the currency, even those who have somewhat of a salary cannot really live on it.

People were waiting for a solution to their already existing problems and then the pandemic hit and then this blast. It is heartbreaking to see how people are in need of bread and water. Even those who could not be considered poor are now struggling for their daily means and water. 

It has been four-five years now that the Lebanese-Armenian community has been thinking about moving to Armenia. Many who could already did. Unfortunately, these recent developments helped those who were undecided realize that for 70 years we were never able to live in this country in peace. It is unfortunate because this is our birthplace and a city we love. I think as Armenians, we know that we are all going to one day or another end up in Armenia. The last ten years have more than shown that these countries Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, these cities, are no longer ours or safe for us. On the other hand, the community leadership here cannot endorse repatriation to Armenia or openly admit that because there will be no Armenians left here, and it will be the end of one of the biggest communities of the Armenian diaspora. Having said this, the Armenians living here can hardly afford education, there is no old age security, their lives are not safe. Add these up and the only option left is to pick up and leave. This last blast showed that to even those who were opposed to leaving. Now they are ready to go anywhere and preferably it will be Armenia.

I know that the Armenian Government is ready to accept the Lebanese Armenians, the messaging has been that we will not leave you alone. We are aware of Armenia’s social-economic situation, aware that there are employment issues there as well but the Lebanese Armenian community is now in an impossible situation, even those who have real estate or some money in the bank have their hands tied. We hope that if we end up in Armenia, we will not end up without support.   

 


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