Vahe Somocljan was born in 1935 in Aleppo in a refugee camp for refugees of the Armenian genocide of 1915. He has spent the past 20 years collecting documents on the history of the Armenian Christian community in Syria. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency)
In March of this year, the city of Kessab was attacked by al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Christian Syrian Armenians who had lived and worked in this region were forced to flee, leaving behind businesses and properties. While many journalists covered the refugees who fled to neighboring Lebanon, photojournalist Gianmarco Maraviglia fixed his lens in the opposite direction: those who had traveled back to their native Armenia. His series “Land of Fathers” explores the new challenges many refugees have faced in the months following the conflict, trying to readjust, away from the prosperity they had previously known in Syria.
For many Syrian Armenians who fled to Armenia, the desire to maintain some semblance of their previous social status determined the areas of the country where they live. Wealthier families rented nice homes in the center of Yeravan, the country’s capital. But their savings soon disappeared because of the lack of available steady jobs. In response, the Armenian government proposed building a luxury housing complex called “New Aleppo,” along with several other new housing quarters across the region. But the proposal soon came under fire, with complaints that the housing complex was geared towards the rich rather than being accessible for everyone. From May 2014, when this series was photographed, until now, the land where this proposed new housing was to be built has still seen no new development. Sheep roam freely in an open field around a skeletal structure of what will presumably be the new community.
The poorer among the refugees have been more or less forced to move to Karabakh, a mountainous landlocked region in present-day eastern Armenia and southwestern Azerbaijan. As modern settlers, refugees have been given free housing and land to farm in the remote area. Prior to the conflict in Syria, Armenia still represented the homeland of their language, culture and religion. The uncertainty of being able to sustain their livelihood for the future, however, has left many suspended between the melancholy of exile and the material difficulties of integration.
All photos by Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency
On the road to Karabakh. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) H. is one of the survivors of the battle of Kessab between the Islamic rebels of al-Nusra Front and and the regular army. After remaining in hiding in his home for two days, on the night of March 24, he walked for five hours to reach a safe area. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Drawing that reconstructs the attack on the town of Kessab by a survivor. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Syrian passport in the house of a family from Kessab. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Some of the refugees live in a kind of shelter in the suburb of Yerevan, Armenia. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Ashtarak, where a compound for Syrian Armenians called “New Aleppo” will be built. It is intended for middle and upper class members, as the advance payment to rent a space is $5,000. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) The area of Kashatagh in Nagorno Karabakh province. Here, many Syrian Armenians live in the village of Berdzor. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Refugees in the Berdzor village, Karabakh. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Kevok Allajan fled from Aleppo, Syria last September. Not having a job nor the money to keep his three children in Yerevan, he applied for an apartment and land to cultivate in Karabakh. Today, he lives in the small village of Kovsakan with his family. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) The roots of Syrians in Armenia run very deep, and they display their cultural heritage though food and language. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Ivan Havannesian, 7 years old, was born in Aleppo, Syria. Last September, terrified by the escalation of violence in Syrian against Christian Armenians, his family embarked on the rough journey to Armenia early before the conflict erupted in March of 2014. Today Ivan lives with his parents in a suburb of Yerevan. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) The Samvelian family is a typical middle class family who lived in the neighborhood of Azize, Aleppo. The little girl, Mary, studied classical music and played the piano. Her grandmother, Mari, who sits beside her, was a famous jeweler in Syria. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Rafhi, 23, a native of Qamishli region on the northwest coast of Syria, on the border with Turkey. He fled Syria to avoid being drafted into the regular army of the Assad regime and arrived in Armenia with his family. Not having found a job and can able to afford a house in Yerevan, he now lives in Berdzor, a village in the republic of Nagorno Karabakh. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Said, a native of Aleppo, lives in an apartment in the village of Berdzor in Karabakh. In Syria he worked in pottery. In Armenia he is a bricklayer for a public company and earn $100, which he uses to support his wife and two children. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Tatiana, 2 years old. For six months, her parents and brother lived in an apartment provided by the government to Syrian refugees in the village of Berdzor in Karabakh. The family lost everything in the war and now lives on just $80 a month. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency) Yeghisapet Chilingirian, originally from Aleppo, is an elderly lady who with her family fled the war in Syria and now lives in Yerevan, Armenia. (Gianmarco Maraviglia/Echo Photo Agency)
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