FRESNO – On Saturday, June 13, 2015 Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church and First Armenian Presbyterian Church joined efforts to host a relief benefit banquet for Armenians in Syria. The theme for the evening was “Hearts for Syria”. The Co-Chair and Mistress of Ceremonies, Roseann Emerzian Saliba welcomed over 200 attendees and introduced the distinguished guests: Rev. Vahan and Yeritzgin Sossi Gosdanian; Rev. Nerses and Mrs. Sevan Balabanian, Honorary Consul to Armenia, Mr. Berj & Mrs. Arpi Apkarian; Appellate Court Justice Charles Poochigian and his wife, Fresno County Supervisor Chairwoman, Deborah Poochigian; and Fresno County Superior Court Judge, Edward and Mrs. Jacqueline Sarkissian.
The invocation was offered by Rev. Gregory Haroutunian; and the national anthems were performed by Miss Vera Darakjian in Armenian and Mrs. Jane Bedrosian in English, accompanied by Mrs. Faye DeLong. Mr. Oscar Luna provided two musical selections for the evening.
Mrs. Saliba opened the evening’s program with remarks, stating “for most of us, these past few months have been filled with a range of heart-felt emotions, beginning with the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on the one hand; and on the other hand, the devastating news of the increasing violence against Christians in Syria, where once again Armenians fall victim to persecution.”
Saliba remarked, “We know that Armenians have had a long history in Syria .having arrived there during the Armenian Genocide; and Syria did not hesitate to open its borders and support the persecuted Armenians.” She went on to say that her parents migrated to America through Syria during the Genocide; however, many remained, where they rebuilt their lives and thrived; and their culture was embraced. Most migrated to Aleppo, while others lived in smaller communities like Qamishli, Damascus, and Kessab. The Armenians established residences, opened businesses, built churches, hospitals, schools and libraries.
Over a period of time, they went from being penniless refugees to middle and upper class citizens – involved in all sorts of trade, education, medicine and traditional Armenian professions, such as carpets and jewelry-making.
Saliba said, “It is heartbreaking that today many of the descendants of those who found sanctuary in Syria, find themselves experiencing the same trauma as their forefathers; a rich history but an uncertain future. Syria, once a symbol of peace and security for our people, has now turned into a land without peace.”
She thanked the attendees for attending the banquet, and for their love and compassion for their sisters and brothers in Syria.
Following a delicious dinner catered by the Pilgrim Church Men’s Forum, Banquet Co-Chair, Edward Saliba, shared his heartfelt comments, relating his experience during the Lebanese Civil War to the situation in Syria, which he stated appeared much more severe.
The evening’s guest speaker was Mrs. Sevan Balabanian from San Francisco. Mrs. Balabanian had just returned from Lebanon where she and her husband, Rev. Nerses Balabanian, ministered to the Syrian-Armenians who had sought refuge there. She presented video clips from the President of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in Syria, Rev. Haroutiun Selimian and the Pastor of the Kessab Armenian Evangelical Church, Rev. Jirayr Ghazarian. Mrs. Balabanian then presented a powerful slide presentation depicting Armenian life before the conflict began, and the current situation. She brought many to tears, as they learned of the trauma and pain being inflicted on the Armenians.
Rev. Ara Guekguezian, Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church ended the evening with an inspiring plea for prayer and support, and concluded the evening with the benediction.