Aleppo Market: Syrian Armenians bring “new flavor” to Yerevan trade

The newly opened Aleppo market adds a new flavor to Yerevan’s unique cultural profile. In the market located next to the Republic Square subway station Syrian Armenians who have immigrated as a result of the Syria war offer tasty Syrian dishes, spices and hand-made works to locals. There are also shops and a hairdressing salon at the place.

Petros Kirazian, who moved to Armenia from Syria three years ago, could not find a job in his historical homeland for almost a year, while in Aleppo he was dealing with metal processing. Soon his creativeness gave him an idea to sell Syrian spices. Later he became engaged in spice trade.

“Initially I started from home, then I worked at Vernissage (a large flea market in downtown Yerevan) for nine months. Gradually people got to know me and I got new customers. Now I have excellent ideas in this work. All the people you see working at the Aleppo market gathered here by my initiative. I was alone here for two months, then my friends and relatives came here, some of them succeeded, others left,” says Kirazian.

The scent of his products comes from afar, a large assortment of spices: cardamom, saffron, ginger, cinnamon, kinion, bahar, Syrian lavash, Indian kurma, various soaps and oils.

“My customers are mainly Armenians who always like the products. No one complains. We generally bring the goods from Dubai, Lebanon, Pakistan and Syria,” he says.

Next to the spice table the flavor of Syrian dishes spreads around. It is Vahram Ter-Ohanian’s table. He suggests dishes that he prepares himself. The “Aleppo sandwiches” keep his memories of the life in this Syrian city alive.

“It’s difficult in Armenia, taxes are high but we will get along. The locals most like our shishtauk, sujukh, lahmajoon, Syrian humus and mutaba,” he says. “Although life in Aleppo continues, but people live there in unbearable conditions, all they want is to leave the country but they have no money. I three times saw death in front of my eyes,” adds the man, telling about the life in war-torn Syria today.

Everyone at the Aleppo market knows each other as they used to live in the same New Village Armenian district in the Syrian city. Fate had a surprise in store for them as many had to start their businesses from scratch in difficult conditions in Armenia.

One of the businesswomen at the Aleppo market Lena Shavlian sells men’s and women’s underwear. She was involved in this business in Aleppo from 1985. She thinks that while she managed to succeed in her business endeavors in Aleppo, she will also be successful in Armenia as well. She came to Yerevan along with her sister in 2012 temporarily to get Armenian passports, but the escalation of conflict in Syria forced them to stay in Armenia permanently.

“Locals wondered why we came here, they said Armenia wasn’t a good country for living. But we say we don’t want to be massacred twice, once we have spread throughout the world, it’s enough. We came here to strengthen our country. Whether good or bad, this is our country. They say this is not a country to live in, I answer that I and you are the country. If we could live next to Muslims, why can’t we live in our fatherland? This country needs care, these authorities are here today, won’t be here tomorrow…” Shavlian says.

Only Armenian products are sold in her shop, she says she can bring goods from Turkey and Dubai, but prefers Armenian ones.

“I want to change the belief about the quality of Armenian products. Why should we sell Turkish goods? It’s enough how much the Turks have destroyed our home. My relatives went abroad but I stay here. Of course, it’s difficult here, we pay for the rent of shop space and apartment, but no matter how hard it is, we will get along,” she says.

Gor Sukiasian, 21, runs a barber’s shop next to the place. He says he serves up to 25 customers, including some customers that knew him still from Aleppo.

Aleppo market salespeople pay from 40,000 to 80,000 AMD (about $90-190) for renting the space, they say it is a reasonable rent. They say they try to promote their businesses, but need advertising so that people know about the market.

“We don’t want much, just some free billboards above us so that people know about this market. We are not able to pay for the market yet, as we still try to get back to our feet. We wrote a letter to the prefecture, but we haven’t got an answer yet,” Kirazian says.

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Originally published: 23 July, 2015