Moved from Aleppo, Syria in 2012
When the Syrian war expanded into Aleppo, his birthplace, Hrair Aguilian had to choose between two possible options; returning to Belgium, where he had lived for almost 25 years or moving to his historical homeland, where he had never been to. Hrair took a risk. Since then, he has never regretted his decision.
“At that point, I was in my 50s and didn’t feel like returning to Belgium despite having had a successful business there. As many people were moving to Yerevan, I also thought of settling here. When I talked to my wife about it, she didn’t appear to like the idea at all. Like many Armenians living in Aleppo, she thought the war was a matter of a few months and would be over soon; but I knew it was going to take much longer. After 2 months of non-stop objections and disagreements, I decided to visit Yerevan to find out what life here was really like. If I had a positive experience, we would move; if not, I was to fly back. I had 10 days to observe the city and share my opinions on it, but it took me only 4 to fall in love. ‘It’s a paradise,’ I told my wife. She believed me and now is beyond happy that she did.”
Hrair and his wife have been living in Armenia for 6 years already. A successful entrepreneur, Hrair has a wood production company and a property firm. In 2013, when the Ministry of Diaspora halted the “New Aleppo” project of constructing a new district for Syrian-Armenians, Hrair took the initiative. He found sponsorship and brought the project to life. Due to this program, 440 Syrian- Armenian families were provided with apartments at low cost.
“Repatriates having their own apartments here makes things so much easier. It’s the first step to successful repatriation. That’s why the motto of our firm is ‘Your own apartment in your own country.’”
Having lived in three countries is like having lived three different lives. For Hrair, Belgium was a very organized European country that provided financial stability and a sense of security. However, what he sought for was the unhurried life that he found in Syria among his community. Although they were used to all the aspects of life in Syria, they felt some limitations.
“The 50,000 Armenians of Aleppo lived a life in a shell. We sort of had our little kingdom that was completely separated from rest of the city in the sense of everyday social life. Practically no life existed outside our community.”
In Yerevan, Hrair definitely feels at home and a renewed sense of freedom. He has his top 5 reasons why Armenia is a paradise, at least for him:
-Nearly everyone you meet belongs to the same community and has a similar outlook on life
-There is no danger of having to leave again. You are essentially at home
-Looking out of the window, you can see the real Ararat instead of a mainstream postcard image
-The weather is beyond perfect: There are four distinct seasons and all of them are beautiful
-Safety is a huge factor; it is absolutely safe for one to be out, day or night
The Revolution – now it’s getting much better!
Hrair feels very inspired by the success that the Revolution had. He is extremely hopeful about the country’s future prosperity, creating an environment where the values planted over the last months will blossom. He believes these values will be cherished by all.
“After all these changes that occurred, few people will doubt that the little things actually matter. Now we all know that the power is in our hands when we are united. Now we all know that freedom of speech is real. In fact, we have learned a lot of things. Now that which we all need to keep in our minds is that the country’s interests are above any political party or ambition. ‘The only party I belong to is my country’ – this is a statement that’s engraved on my cousin’s tombstone in Yerablur. This is a principle that will keep everyone’s conscience awake, a principle we all should follow. The first step to achieving this is discarding the silly tendency of pushing forward only those people who are ‘our relatives’ and neglecting the ones who don’t fall into that category. If we want progress, we should keep our minds and hearts open like that of the gates of the National Assembly which we saw opened recently.”
Author: Tamar Najarian