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A Refuge in Lebanon

Refugees find hope rekindled at the Karagheusian Center

by Doreen Abi Raad

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A maze of tangled electrical wires crisscrosses above the narrow streets. Motor scooters zip by as two boys unload produce from a van, making a delivery to a tiny convenience store. An elderly woman chats with a shopkeeper standing below her second-floor balcony, adorned with birdcages and a faded Armenian flag.

This is Bourj Hammoud, a suburb of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Settled by Armenians fleeing extermination in the Ottoman Empire in the beginning of the 20th century, the densely populated area remains home to their descendants, as well as thousands of Syrian refugees.

Talar, a young Syrian Armenian mother, fled her home in Aleppo in 2013 when terrorists seized the neighborhood where she had lived with her husband and their son Krikor, now 9 years old. The three rushed to a relative’s home about 15 minutes away.

After a month away, her husband went to check on their apartment.

“Everything was completely destroyed,” Talar says, still outraged. “There was nothing at all that my husband could retrieve.” The loss of their family photos and mementos was especially painful.

As the violence continued to spread, the young family believed they had no alternative but to flee to Lebanon. They settled in a one-room dwelling in Bourj Hammoud. Her husband, who had a thriving livelihood in Aleppo as a carpenter, found work in Beirut in his trade, but after a month of labor he was never paid by his employer.

He then took a job as a taxi driver. Again, after a month of work, his boss

refused to pay him. With no money for the rent, the family was evicted from their apartment.

“The landlord changed the locks and we couldn’t go back in. For the second time, we lost our home and everything we had.”

Yet Talar and her family have not fallen into despair; through the services and hospitality of the Karagheusian Socio-Medical Center, they have found a lifeline.

A splash of sunlight amid the gray concrete of this urban neighborhood, the yellow Karagheusian Socio-Medical Center is a Bourj Hammoud landmark, welcoming all in need.

Thanks to the center, the family now has a steady income and

a place to live. The organization found Talar’s husband a position as a custodian at an Armenian school that includes accommodation on the premises — and offered class enrollment for young Krikor. And through the center’s women’s group, Talar has found an outlet for much-needed social contact and services.

In these and many other ways, the center is helping those who have been uprooted to set their feet once more on firm ground — enabling them to find opportunities, rediscover community and rekindle hope.

The story of the Karagheusian Center begins after the death of 14-year-old Howard Karagheusian from pneumonia in New York City in 1918.

His Armenian American parents resolved to establish a humanitarian mission — the Howard Karagheusian Foundation — in their son’s memory, focusing at first on sheltering, feeding and educating orphaned children who had survived the Armenian Genocide. The organization has operated in Lebanon, Syria and Armenia ever since — now for more than 95 years.

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