‘Stash for Syria’: Janessian Moustache Raises Funds for Relief
By Rupen Janbazian
As seen in The Armenian Weekly
BELMONT, Mass.—Belmont’s Ani Catering and Café looks a little more authentic these days. Ari Janessian, the operator of the Middle Eastern eatery, can be seen wrapping falafel sandwiches and slicing shards of stacked meat sporting a healthy new moustache, reminiscent of the whiskers on the faces of shawarma masters in Aleppo.
Janessian’s new moustache isn’t merely a fashion statement. Piggy-backing on the recent no-shave-November (or “Movember”) trend—the growing of moustaches and beards during the month of November to raise funds and awareness of various men’s health issues—he figured it would be a good idea to start a fundraising campaign for Syrian Armenians.
“Very simply, I was shaving one morning… It must have been either November 1 or 2. I was in the bathroom, kind of joking around with the idea of leaving a moustache, when it dawned on me that we could actually raise some funds to help in the process,” he said.
Janessian’s connections to Syria run deep. Though he was born in Saudia Arabia and grew up in Watertown, Mass., Janessian was raised on stories of Syria from his parents. Both his father Hovaness and his mother Ani were born in the country’s largest city, Aleppo.
Janessian has visited Syria several times. “I was actually baptized in Aleppo, so Syria holds a very special place in my heart,” said Janessian, who still has family there. “My dad’s sisters, their children, their children’s children still live in Syria.”
For Janessian, the decision to start his campaign—aptly named “Stash for Syria”—was simple. “I didn’t have to leave work or anything. I could just leave this thing [pointing to his moustache] and just update my Facebook status.”
After getting approval from his dad to come into work with his new piece of facial hair, Janessian set up his GoFundMe account and began raising funds. “All it took was a quick graphic I put together on my phone, I changed my [Facebook] profile picture, and started blasting away with status updates.” So far, Janessian has raised close to $3,000.
The first few days were difficult, since nobody really understood what he was doing. “They didn’t take it as seriously as I wanted them to,” he said, “but once the actual donations started rolling in, people that were skeptical started donating too.”
Janessian has decided to donate through the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Eastern United States Syrian Armenian Relief Fund because for him, it was the one proven channel that distributed necessary relief to Armenians living in Syria.
“The work they have done there is incredible,” said Ari, who hopes his efforts will help. At the very beginning of the war in Syria more than four years ago, the ARS committed to providing unconditional support to Syria’s Armenian population and initiated various relief efforts and humanitarian projects through its worldwide chapters. The ARS Eastern United States has been instrumental in this effort.
“Syria is a place very close to home for many Armenians. After the genocide, many Armenians found refuge in the country,” he explained. “Armenians, including my parents, immigrated to the United States from Syria. Given that the war in Syria over the last four years has put Armenians in a dangerous situation made me realize that I could do my small part here.”
Janessian’s “Stash for Syria” campaign will continue until Nov. 30. Until then, he insists that no amount donated is too small. “Five, 10, 20 dollars goes a long way there. The amount doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that we each do our small part to help our brothers and sisters in need.”
Donations to Janessian’s campaign can be made online at https://www.gofundme.com/StashForSyria.