By Jenny Yuen
Zouvig Baghjajian may never have participated in a Thanksgiving dinner before, but she feels extremely grateful to be in Canada.
Baghjajian, 33, and her family escaped their home in the Syrian city of Aleppo in July after their home was bombed multiple times and she and her husband decided their three young children could not safely grow up there.
In July, through a refugee program offered by the Canadian government, the family of five arrived in Toronto. On Monday, they were among 50 newcomers from Syria and Armenia celebrating their first Thanksgiving turkey dinner at a condo building near the Don Valley Parkway and Sheppard Ave. E.
“I’m thankful for the Canadian government to open their arms to us,” she said. “My son, he’s nine and he when he comes to Canada he says, ‘It’s kind of like a paradise.’”
One of her twin four-year-old daughters suffers from muscle and nerve problems with her legs and finding a specialist in Syria was next to impossible, Baghjajian said.
“I’m happy to be here but my family is still back there and I’m worried for them,” she said. “Sometimes I use the phone card to reach them and they cannot be reached. I want to bring them over but it’s a dream for now. There’s no life in Aleppo.”
Her biggest challenge is overcoming the English language barrier, she said.
Another Aleppo refugee, 46-year-old Leon Danayan, said he also applied for the sponsorship opportunity for him and his family after their house was repeatedly bombed. After arriving in June, he now works in an export food company in the Warden-St. Clair Aves. area.
“It was a disaster living in Syria,” he said. “It’s death there and we needed to escape the war. We were searching for a safe place. Here, it’s multicultural in Toronto and we try to make family within the Armenian community here.”
The 50 permanent residents carved into several turkeys at the beginning of dinner and some even had a double helping of cranberry sauce and stuffing. Lots were glued to the Blue Jays game playing in the corner of the party room.
“These are all family and friends who put this together,” said Aris Babikian, a volunteer at the event organized by the local Armenian community. “These people are survivors but could have been killed at any moment by bombings, kidnapping, booby-trapped cars or beheadings.”
Photo by CBC News