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Hakob Janerian: Syrian War Survivor Finds Hope at the FAR Children’s

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Hakob Janerian was unwittingly forced into adulthood at an early age. A displaced victim of war who lost his mother to cancer, Hakob has experienced more difficulties and challenges in his short life than many. Just 18 years old, Hakob, for the past three years, has been caretaker of his two younger siblings, Jirair, 14, and Sarin, 16. While his challenges have at times seemed insurmountable he has overcome many of them – and with great help from the FAR Children’s Center.

Hakob’s family w/ father and mother

A life wrecked by war

Hakob was born in Aleppo, Syria where he spent his carefree childhood playing with Syrian-Armenian and Arab friends.

Hakob was 10 when the war broke out in 2011, robbing him of his then dream to become a kung fu champion. “I was about to leave for the European championships when the war erupted,” he said. It quickly engulfed the country, isolating the family and pushing them into financial hardship.

He recollected the night he and his family finally decided to leave Aleppo. They were sleeping when a bomb fell close to their house in the middle of the night. Awakened by the noise, Hakob and his mother, Sosie, ran outside. Once they saw it Hakob pushed them back into the house before it detonated. “We nearly died,” he said.

Hakob getting ready for his University midterm exams in running

In September 2016, following the advice of a distant relative and the feeling that the land of their roots could provide refuge, Sosie, Hakob, and his two siblings, packed their things and headed to Armenia via Beirut and Dubai. At the time, Sosie had also recently been diagnosed with cancer. (They had also cut off contact with Hakob’s father, Vazgen. They believe he is still in Syria.) One month after they left, Hakob learned that their house in Aleppo had been bombed.

Life at the Children’s Center

Trying to make it in Armenia

Once they arrived in Yerevan, Hakob and his family rented a small, two-room apartment. Because Sosie was sick and could only receive intermittent care, she was unable to work. The burden of trying to make ends meet fell on Hakob who tried to bring in income through numerous jobs and side gigs at restaurants and fast food places where he sometimes earned just 1,000 AMD (USD $2) a day. The school soon took a backseat.

“People usually face hardships step by step, but everything came at me at once and abruptly. My mom was sick from cancer and couldn’t walk. I had to take care of her, my brother, and my sister. So, I started working day and night without much rest. I couldn’t balance school and work and often had to miss classes to feed my family,” said the young man.

Hakob working at the Wine Works

However, Hakob did start to find that he enjoyed riding a bicycle while he made food deliveries around Yerevan and in neighboring Abovyan.

Finding Support at the FAR Children’s Center

Sosie passed away about a year ago. Two months prior, she had reached out to the FAR Children’s Center and asked them if they would help look after her children. With no official guardian, the three siblings would need assistance. The Center had just begun a partnership in 2018 with UNHCR on a project aimed at supporting displaced Syrian-Armenian youth in need. The three temporarily moved into the Center where they got a respite from having to meet rent and utility payments. Center staff also helped Hakob to get a decent job at a local company called Wine Works, which he could balance while he refocused on school again.

Life at the Children’s Center – Lunch Time

All three were aloof and unsocial when they arrived at the Center; they barely even spoke to each other. Hakob was plagued with anxiety and would often ride his bike around to try to calm himself down. Gradually, with help from counselors and other Center specialists, things began to change. Hakob says that the Center has helped him to recover mentally and psychologically, and develop greater self-reliance and decision-making skills.

His siblings have also found ways to cope. Sarin learned embroidery and sewing at the Center. She now really likes making jewelry which she often sells at expos. She has also found that she loves children and wants to become a teacher. Jirair found that he loves programming and Center teachers have enabled him to enroll at the TUMO IT Center to study.

Jirair attends TUMO classes

New inspiration in cycling

For Hakob, riding a bicycle also helped him break a crippling cycle of hardships and trial. He believes it has also mentally strengthened and empowered him.

“Cycling has changed my life. In 2017, I bought an old Chinese bicycle which has become my everything—my access to a job, my exercise, my firm friend,” he said. Soon after buying it, through a local hobby group he met with a coach from the Cycling School of Olympic Reserve of Armenia, and he started preparing for Yerevan’s Championship in Track Cycling. He won the championship earlier this year.

Hakob cycling back home after a business day

Last summer, Hakob finished school and successfully passed the entrance exams to start at the Cycling Faculty of the Armenian State Institute of Physical Culture and Sport, where he’s now a freshman.

Looking ahead

Still residing at the Children’s Center with his brother and sister, Hakob is now doing his best to put aside some money to rent a small apartment for the three of them.

Hakob, Sarin, and Jirair always read the Bible before sleep

“I have gone through many trials in my life but my dreams have forced me to move forward. The Bible says that hardships are for everyone; hardship is a trial, the trial is patience, and patience is hope. I hope to become a world champion in cycling one day. This is my lifetime dream,” he said.


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