Courage and Compassion Amidst War in Syria
An Interview with Talin Topalakian
March 11, 2013
March 11, 2012
How did the Armenian community come to be in Syria, and when did Jinishian come into the picture?
Armenian roots have been in Syria for centuries. But since 1915 the population increased here because genocide survivors were warmly welcomed. Although it was initially very difficult, little by little, Armenians became an important part of the Syrian mosaic.
Since 1966 the Jinishian Memorial Program (JMP) has always been there for the vulnerable and poor, and we are now well-known as a neutral charitable organization serving in Damascus, Aleppo (an industrial, Armenian core), and the agricultural area of Kamishly.
How are you weathering this war now going on two years?
People are praying and hoping every day to get back their secure, stable life. These days are very difficult, and sometimes very hopeless. We are having casualties within our community. Nearly everybody is worried about the unpredictable future, as even the middle class must now apply for help, wishing that this will be temporary. In every time and place, we have the poor, but nowadays people in Syria also face psychological, physical, social and security problems.
And yet you came into your role as Country Director just a few months ago. How did you make that choice?
That timing was the biggest challenge for me. My desire was to serve the largest number of Armenians in need, regardless of their religious, social or political affiliation. I sought moral satisfaction and deeper empathy. The words of Martin Luther King came to mind: “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
Where does that courage come from?
Although our Jinishian Memorial Program family lives with all these dangers personally, we feel responsible to help and support our community. Saving someone’s life, giving shelter to a homeless child, giving hope to an abandoned, lonely, elderly and sick person, and showing compassion and helping an unemployed breadwinner—this gives happiness to our hearts, and we can forget our own troubles a bit.
The more we give, the more God’s love grows in us. If we don’t help and love each other here, we can’t love a God who we don’t see. “God is love, whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him” (1 John 4:16).
What do you hope for, Talin? What would you most wish our readers to know?
Our most important dream is to have back our safe and peaceful life in order to implement programs and projects in cooperation with the churches and other organizations, to help Armenian families to survive, restart their activities and recover.
Although some Armenians (with relatives or means) have left Syria temporarily, the majority who remain are struggling to live and need more assistance. With your help, we can give hope to one more family. Armenians in Syria need you more than ever because they trust this organization that has always been beside them. I want to thank all those who support JMP morally and financially, so that we can help people and honor Mr. Jinishian’s vision.