Op-Ed: Why We Should Stand with Lebanon Today

By Houry Mayissian - Armenia Media | Monday, 23 August 2021

By Houry Mayissian

It can be difficult to sympathise with the suffering of others when you have so much stress in your life. Whether you’re locked down in Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra, the isolation, home schooling, working from home and endless juggling of life’s challenges are taking their toll.

I know it feels like your cup is almost full, but let me tell you a story.

A year ago, we returned from Armenia to Sydney via Lebanon with our two children – then aged three and nine months. During the three weeks we spent in Lebanon, we saw and experienced things no human being should.

It was just past 6:00pm on 4th August 2020. I was at the beach about 14kms north of the Port of Beirut, with my son, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew. The kids were in the playground. I heard an explosion. It sounded like it’s coming from far away. I looked above me searching for Israeli war planes – if you’ve grown up in this country, this would be your knee-jerk reaction. Nothing.

I looked around me searching for people who might have also heard it. No reaction. “I guess it was nothing,” I was thinking to myself… And then the second explosion followed. Deafening, terrifying, deathly.

Again, I started thinking war planes. My sister-in-law and I looked at each other, looked for the kids. They were on the swings and slides. We called them out, grabbed them and ran to our car.

The scenes around us were horrific. People shaking, crying, trying to call their loved ones.

We somehow reached home. Our family was safe. Uncles and cousins had significant damage to their homes, but they were safe.

The days that followed started bringing devastating news of friends who had become homeless, of young children who had lost parents, of parents who had lost children. We gave thanks, every minute of every day – we still do.

This was the explosion that made global headlines. It came amidst an acute economic crisis that was seeing the Lebanese currency lose its value against the dollar, leading to soaring prices and leaving many families unable to afford basic goods.

The day we were travelling out, we had run out of water. My father bought some from the mobile trucks that go around selling water in Lebanon – yes this is a thing. The water we paid money for was greenish yellow. Imagine having to bathe your kids in it.

As if all of this was not enough, COVID-19 cases were also on the rise in Lebanon following the opening of the airport and increased international arrivals.

This was a country reeling not just from a single, catastrophic tragedy, but layers and layers of compiled, disastrous tragedies.

A year ago, we left a very vulnerable Lebanon. A Lebanon on the brink of collapse. Families and friends worried and distressed. An Armenian community in a world of pain.

A year later, my family and friends will tell you how the situation has gotten so much worse. It might not be comprehensible to us, here in Australia, but it has.

There is no fuel in the country. Hospitals are closing. Imagine not having access to medical care because there is no power.

There is no running water in the country. Not even the trucks can bring them anymore, because guess what? They’re running out of fuel.

There is no medicine. There is no bread because the bakeries can’t operate. Schools are unlikely to return in general. Not just for a term or two.

Lebanon is not on the brink of collapse. It has collapsed. And people have been left to take care of their own with whatever means they find.

And so, it is time to step up and take care of our own – the Armenians of Lebanon. These past few days I keep reliving experiences of growing up in the Armenian community of Lebanon, and so many of these early life memories are about giving. Like the time we donated clothes and money to a drive to support the victims of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia. I was five.

Or that time when I was a member of the AYF Nigol Aghpalian juniors varchoutyoun and we started what has now become a long-standing tradition of creating hand-made Christmas decorations and selling them door to door. That first year, after a lot of blood, sweat and tears we made a net profit of US$500. We were very proud to donate the entire sum to the Lebanon-based Artsakh Fund. The kids in Artsakh needed that money more than we did.

From piggy banks at our schools to major community-wide fundraisers for vulnerable community members, for Armenia and Artsakh, growing up in the Armenian community of Lebanon, I learnt the importance of giving back to our nation and to our cause.

Throughout Lebanon’s never-ending economic ordeals and political crises, including 15 years of civil war, this community has relentlessly been a beacon of light for advocacy, intellectual discourse, and leadership for Armenian communities worldwide.

Generations of Lebanese Armenians have become community leaders, teachers, and Hay Tad advocates, shaping our cause, our communities and our nation’s trajectory across the globe.

This community has given us writers, poets and artists who have kept the Western Armenian language and culture alive.

Many Lebanese Armenians have sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Artsakh, for attracting worldwide attention to and demanding accountability for the Armenian Genocide.

Only a few years ago the community tended with open arms to the plight of Armenian refugees fleeing from war-torn communities such as those of Iraq and Syria.

And, believe it or not, it was only last year, after the explosion and amidst an economic crisis that the community in Lebanon joined Armenians worldwide in raising funds for Artsakh as the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia broke out.

Now, this community needs our support – our unequivocal financial and moral support. The Armenian Relief Society of Australia has launched a campaign to #STANDWITHLEBANON. Please get behind it. Donate and spread awareness (click here for details).

I know that times are difficult everywhere, but I also know that it is the most difficult of times that often bring out the best in people.

In the example set so many times by the Armenian community of Lebanon, give despite how tough it is at the moment. Because they need it more.