By Arin Mikailian
Eilrama Betkolia was among dozens of people Sunday that made a fundraiser donation at the Assyrian-American Association in North Hollywood to aid his people caught in the crossfire of war-torn Syria.
The 31-year-old Sherman Oaks resident and Assyrian-American from Iran visited Assyrian refugee camps in Syria shortly after the Second Iraq Gulf War broke out in 2003.
That’s also when many native Assyrians, which are a Christian people, fled to Syria in fear of religious persecution from Muslim extremists. About half a million of them escaped, according to figures reported by the Daily News.
Now, some of those refugees from almost a decade ago are trying to head back to Iraq to escape the civil war between Syria’s government and rebel forces.
“They are turning around to run back to their homeland where they don’t have anything anymore,” Betkolia said.
The Assyrian Aid Society and about 10 other Assyrian churches and organizations are working together to raise money to help families start over in Iraq as well as those who stayed behind and are internally displaced in Syria.
Sargoun Issa, president of the society, said a key organization within the country that aided Assyrians has also left, leaving no one in the region to help them.
“[The aid organization] is not there anymore,” he said, adding: “We are Christian. Between all our Muslim neighbors, we don’t have any support. Nobody cares about us. We are a very easy target.”
In the past, the Assyrian Aid Society has worked with international organizations to build schools, rebuild homes and provide medical help to Syrians abroad.
The society has launched an online fund to aid Assyrians coping with the Syrian conflict.
The association will also be holding a fundraiser picnic at Balboa Park in Encino on Sept. 9 from noon to 7 p.m.