The school bell rings announcing the start of classes. Students rush to take their places in long rows around the school yard. Then they salute the flag and go to their classrooms. Soon after, the classrooms in the buildings around the yard become busy with students except for one building that is built from old stones; this building is the oldest in the school. It will remain empty until the completion of the rehabilitation activities and the removal of all war effects as it remained standing despite the shelling and terrorist explosions during the years of Syrian war.
MECC in cooperation with the churches in Netherlands is rehabilitating this building in the private Syrian Secondary School in Aleppo within the Rehabilitation Program that restores religious and social establishments that were damaged by Syrian war.
This school was established in 1947 to educate students who were gathered from the Armenian diaspora who survived the massacres of the Ottoman Empire.
The school is constituted of a main building that includes in its ground flour laboratories and offices in addition to other two floors including classrooms and teacher halls. In addition, the school includes a museum hall, activities hall and another a branch building.
The Private Syrian Secondary School was damaged hugely during war as it is located on the military frontline.
The Church Experiences the Sufferings of War with the Population
His Eminence, the Most Reverend Armenian Apostolic Metropolitan of Aleppo, Masis Zoboyan, said,” People in Aleppo, like everywhere else in Syria, have experienced harsh circumstances and fear during war. Residential buildings and churches were destroyed… big numbers of people were displaced. Despite all these difficult circumstances, the church have not forsaken its sons and opened its doors for everyone without discrimination.”
He added,” The church experienced the great pain along with the population during the Syrian war similar to pain experienced along with the Armenian people during the genocide. I am proud of our priests who did not travel but remained in the diocese of Aleppo and shared the pains of people. The humanitarian organizations played an active role during war and after it. They provided assistance to the population encouraging them to stay in the country. The church had a central role and our Armenian schools and associations had an active role in providing aid to Christians, Armenian Orthodox in Aleppo and all those in need regardless of their religion.
About the Private Syrian Secondary School, he said,” The school is highly regarded in the society in Aleppo and among the Armenian population there. A large number of its graduates achieved important positions in Aleppo and in different societies in the world.”
About the rehabilitation, he added,” The building of the school was severely damage during war similar to all the other buildings in Al Midan neighborhood, which were located on the front line of military operations. The effects of war are still evident in many buildings surrounding the school. The rehabilitation of the school is a very important project for us, because it encourages people to stay in Syria and in Aleppo in addition to preserving its cultural value”.
“Despite all the difficulties, we are still present in Syria and Aleppo hoping of a better future. We derive hope from our Christian faith in the first place and from the supporting churches and humanitarian organizations in the second place. Our diocese is large and spread in Syria and we have many future projects related to the churches and schools. We, as Syrians living in Syria, have a role to play in the reconstruction of this country.
Motropolitan Zoboyan concluded saying,” I want to thank our brothers in Holland from the bottom of my heart because they understood our pain, heard our voice and helped us. I also want to ask them to continue their mission. This mission is not only a Christian one; it is a humanitarian mission as well serving everybody and especially the churches in Syria that suffered a lot during the years of war. In addition, I want to thank them for not forgetting Syria and remembering it in their prayers and for implementing such an important project, namely the rehabilitation of the Private Syrian Secondary School.
A long history and a special place in the Armenian community
The director of the Private Syrian Secondary School, Agob kelejian, said,” We lived tough and difficult days during war in Aleppo. Our loss is not material only..our loss is humane. Many people were killed in explosions and shelling as war has no mercy. Every time we left our homes we were afraid that we would never come back to our families.”
He added,” Despite all the difficulties, we continued the educational process. we had to move to another safer building in a different place, because we were no longer able to continue the academic process in this school as terrorist groups were only 100 meters far away and shelling was very heavy. The number of students fell down to 750 students after having about 1150. Though the situation was very harsh, we never stopped teaching.
He continued saying,” During war, a car bomb explosion took place next to the school which caused the destruction of its new building this was followed by heavy mortar shelling on the school. These mortars were made of gas canisters stuffed with explosives causing a massive destruction wherever they were falling. The old school building was also hugely damages and this is particularity the building we are restoring today.”
“The importance of school rehabilitation stems from the importance of its history. This school has a unique position in the consciousness of the Armenian community in Aleppo in particular, and in the community in general.
In the beginning, it was merely an orphanage and house for widows that was established by the benevolent Carin Ibih that left her university studies in Denmark and moved to Aleppo to help Armenian widows and orphans that experienced the horrors of the genocide. She raised the orphans and taught widows handicrafts. She used to sell their production to help them earn some income so they can live. The Private Syrian Secondary School was established in 1947. It was the first secondary Armenian school in Syria. It was highly regarded in Aleppo graduating thousands of students that are dispersed everywhere in the world. They hope they will be able to come back and visit the school they are deeply missing”.
He concluded saying,” the rehabilitation of the Private Syrian Secondary School gives hope to the parents and the students who traveled abroad. Many of them told us that the rehabilitation of the destroyed part of the school made them willing to return and enroll in it”.
Students Restore Hope to Achieve Their Dreams
Armen is a 16-year-old student in the school. He said,” During war, we used to live in constant fear. The war that we experienced was like a black cloud covering all of Syria. We were displaced leaving behind our homes and beloved school. I remember that with the beginning of war, mortar shells were falling in the school yard and its building as well. Therefore, we had to move to another building in Alslemanieh neighborhood in Aleppo as the situation there was less dangerous.”
He added,” The history of the school is very important for me because here I can learn my mother language, the Armenian language, in an academically professional way. I cannot learn that in any other school. In addition, this is the school of my parents and I want to continue my education here.”
About the rehabilitation, Armen said,” The old building in our school is the major building while the other ones were constructed later on. This main building was the most damaged. The rehabilitation activities in our school restored hope and for the first time since the beginning of war that our dream can be achieved”.
Houri who is a 15 years old student in the school said,” After the end of war we returned to our city and school. I was very happy for that. At the beginning, the school seemed different from what we were used to before war. However, After spending the academic year and having good times here, we see it once again as our lovely school. We are waiting for the restoration activities to end in the old building because it is the main building of our school and the classrooms there are bigger than the ones we are currently using in addition to the fact that all previous generations graduated from that place”.
The building of the Private Syrian Secondary School in Al Medan neighborhood in Aleppo was a witness of a harsh and destructive war in Aleppo. Many Syrian cities are still witnessing and ongoing war until now. The school students are waiting for the completion of the rehabilitation process to continue their studies in the old building that holds their pre-war memories and will hold their new memories as they continue the path created by previous generations.
By: Lama Halawi