Arax Boghos (18) is an Armenian Orthodox teenager who just finished High School in her hometown of Aleppo, Syria, the country’s second-largest city, which for years saw some of the worst fighting of the civil war. Arax greatly values education, which she considers to be vital for young people as they will carry the burden of rebuilding Syrian society for the long term. Here she speaks of her ambitions:
“I live with my mother and sister in Aleppo, my father lives in al-Qamishli province; he works in agriculture and he lives there. During the seven years of the war, we did not see him because of the absence of security there. Al- Qamishli was on the firing line of the battle with ISIS. He was once subjected to a kidnapping attempt but the militants preferred taking the money and chose not to kill him.
“My mother, sister and I live in a house that was very close to fighting among armed groups; although we live in an elegant neighborhood, with a Christian majority—the war made no distinctions.
“We were always afraid of a sniper, who was stationed very close to our street. I used to run away from him on my way to school, before he would see me. Shells were falling near our house, but my mother, my sister and I were laughing when that happened. We laughed, thinking maybe these would be our last laughs. Everything we did felt like doing it for the last time, as we did not know when we might die.
“Thank God now the security situation has improved, and my father can visit us every three or four months.
“The tense atmosphere in Aleppo was hard to bear; in the most difficult days we traveled to Armenia and spent some months there. Then we went back to Aleppo preferring to live in our home without electricity and water—instead of living in a tourist country like Armenia. Armenia is a beautiful country and, as an Armenian girl, I have a unique feeling toward it, but in my home in Aleppo I feel safe; my motherland is Syria.
“In that difficult period, my faith was only in God and, still, when I feel tired and afraid, I unconsciously pray and I trust that God will not let me down twice, and even during my exams, I devoted as many hours to prayers as I dedicated to my studies.
“During the war, we lived in difficult circumstances, especially as students. We studied by candlelight sometimes, not to mention the sounds of the explosions that were increasing our stress. However, the situation is much better now. I devote the hours when electricity is available to study, and the hours of darkness to sleep and rest.
“I think God chose us to live through this war to test our faith. God does not want harm to anyone—but He wants us to believe in Him under all circumstances.
“During the war, I met people who were very much oppressed. I realized that war always oppresses the innocents. Often, innocent people meet their destiny of death without committing any sins.
“We must tell everyone that God does not accept murder, slaughter and injustice. I gained my deep knowledge of God through my reading and research. There were always existential questions in my mind about Christian faith, and I answered myself through my study of the Word of God. I invite all youths to study God’s Word to find love and goodness for themselves and their lives.
“Ever since I was a child, my dream has been to become a professional journalist. Through the media, I can deliver a real message. I have worked hard to get the grades required to apply to the College of Mass Communication and Information and the College of Law. Currently I am waiting to hear from the schools and I trust in the will of God to guide me to the best future.
“There are many students who stopped their studies because of the war. I want to tell them: ‘Go back to school and continue your education’—to sacrifice education is the biggest mistake, because we are the future and we have to be an informed and educated generation.
“Despite the circumstances that all the students and I have faced, I passed my exams with high marks. I encourage all the students who are going to have their final secondary school exams in this year to not give up on their dreams or surrender to the pressure of life—because God is with us.”
Nagham Koudsiah writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS);www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)