Brief History about the Lebanese Armenian Community
The Lebanese Armenian community is one of the oldest Armenian communities in the diaspora. Although Tigranes the Great conquered Phoenicia from the Seleucids during the 1st century, Romans eventually intervened to restore Seleucid sovereignty, thus Armenians only visited Lebanon on their way to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Armenians arrived in the country after the genocide and lived during the French Mandate over Lebanon, witnessing the independence in 1943.
They have established dozens of Cultural, Educational, Humanitarian centers and built 26 Churches to worship God freely and to help keep their identity. They have called the streets they live in with those of their homeland like Adana, Aragats, Cilicia, Marash, Sis, Yerevan, and so on… They have enjoyed the freedom of expression in media since 1924 with Punik newspaper (later replaced by Aztag), Ararad, Aztag, Zartonk Armenian daily newspapers, other weekly and monthly publications, Voice of Van and Sevan Armenian Radio Stations.
Armenians have their own traditional political parties, Social Democrat, Revolutionary and Liberal Parties, who have a great influence on social educational, cultural life, and so on.
The immigrant Armenian was given a second chance in a new country, which was recovering from the ages of the same injustice that Armenians had endured. Lebanese people welcomed them because they were also recovering from hunger, martyrdom, and abuse by the same tyranny. In just a few years, they were able to communicate with the French systems, which gave them the chance to establish their businesses and become pillars of the Lebanese economy and further promote Lebanon to the world.
My grandmother and great uncle had been university graduates from Berlin like was the case in so many of the new immigrant families, whose parents were educated, although they had to start over after losing everything during the Armenian Genocide. They knew languages, their families had been managing businesses in the Ottoman territories, and they were taught to be leaders. As soon as they settled, they started building their businesses from scratch, and even though they were given quarantines and camps they turned them into rich neighborhoods, with their own churches, schools, markets, clubs, and the orphans were given second chances in life at the orphanages.
Lebanese Armenians were brilliant in sales, arts, great craftsmen, engineers, carpenters, diamond setters, goldsmiths, coppersmiths, tailors, carpenters, jewelers, shoemakers, tasteful in artisanal and fashion industry, and so on…
I remember the real story of a family, whose father had started buying loads of leather and storing them in a large room for his sons when they were still studying. When I was born his sons had already built up a shoe factory producing high-quality leader merchandise selling them locally and exporting them. They employed dozens of shoemakers, mostly of Armenian origin. One of the sons ended up becoming a minister representing the Armenians in the Lebanese Parliament for many years.
The Lebanese Armenian community was once one of the richest in the diaspora. The Armenian Evangelical Central High School founded by reverend Yenovk Hadidian in 1922 in a refugee camp. “Jemaran” established by Nigol Aghpalian and Levon Shant in 1930 with only 15 students. Mardikian Kindergarten-Elementary School founded by Catholicos Sahag A. Khabian in the 1930s initially called Mesrobian School. Shamlian Tatigian in 1934. AGBU Tarouhy Hagopian School for girls, established in 1939. The Armenian Evangelical Secondary School of Anjar founded by Swiss Missionaries in 1947.
Aksor Kassardjian, Apkarian, Noubarian, Forty Martyrs, AGBU Levon G. Nazarian, and Levon & Sophia Hagopian, Mesrobian High School, Saint Agnes, Peter & Emmanuel Torossian Middle School, Chatalbashian, Vahan Tekeyan, AGBU Boghos K. Garmirian … these are not just random names… these were schools in Beirut, that so many descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide have attended on empty stomachs to receive an education.
The same list of schools exported a long list of Armenian brains, to the rest of the diaspora, who escaped the civil war in Lebanon. Unfortunately, many of these schools shut their doors forever or were merged together into one school after the drop in number of students.
13 Armenian Orthodox Churches:
The Saint Gregory the Illuminator Mother Cathedral, the residence of the catholicos of Cilicia and premises for the clergy. Holy Sign, Saint Hagop, Saint George, Armenian Apostolic Church of the Assumption Beirut, Armenian Apostolic Church of the Assumption Jounieh, Forty Martyrs, Holy Mother of God, Saint Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church, Saint Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church, Saint Paul, Holy Pentecost, Holy Mother of God and the Zarehian Seminary.
7 Armenian Catholic churches:
St. Elie-St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, Armenian Catholic Church of the Annunciation at the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Eparchy.
Armenian Catholic Church and the Convent of Bzoummar, St. Saviour, Holy Cross, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Rosary.
Major Armenian Evangelical Churches:
6 Armenian Evangelical Churches in Kantari, Achrafieh, Nor Marash, Amanos, Mar Mikhael, and Anjar.
Some Famous Lebanese Armenian Personalities
Vahe Berberian and Pierre Chammassian who doesn’t know them, Ara Malikian the famous Violinist moved to Spain from Lebanon, Krikor Jabotian the Fashion Designer for Royals. Krikor Agopian, Lidya Tchakerian, Paul Guiragossian are painters whose works are well known in the Diaspora.
Kegham the dancer, Guy Manoukian the composer/pianist.
Tigran Mansurian the famous composer, 2004 Grammy awards nominee, was born in Lebanon.
Musician Serouj Kradjian and his beautiful wife Isabel Bayrakdarian the Opera Singer were born in Lebanon.
Serj Tankian, Adiss Harmandian, Antoine Bezdjian, Paul Baghdadlian, Samira Tewfik are of Lebanese Armenian origin.
John Dolmayan – drummer of SOAD.
Have you heard of Sylvia Oannessian – Miss Lebanon and Miss World Finalist 1973?
Iman, previously Liz Sarkissian, Arsine Khanjian, Simon Abkarian, and even Tulip Joshi famous Indian actress and model (Indian father, Lebanese-Armenian mother).
These have all been residents, members of these churches, students, graduates, and proudly Lebanese.
War or no War
According to Wikipedia, The Lebanese Civil War was a secular civil war in Lebanon, lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an estimated 120,000 fatalities.
But if you ask the citizens, the war never really ended. The only change was that many families left Lebanon to safer countries all around the world never looking back. Those who stayed were not compensated for their losses, there is no social security, no retirement guarantees, no educational aid, child support, or rights…
Whoever had the financial ability left, some stayed to save their properties, the ones who had suffered losses stayed hoping they would revive their broken businesses, and the middle class became poor having to stop their children’s education, while others believed that education gave hope for their future generations.
Today, 30 years after the war ended, it seems as if nothing has changed. Although there are no bombs crossing over buildings, no nights of horror, and fear of becoming the next bombardment victim. The Lebanese people are facing an unseen enemy, undetectable, and even stronger than before.
The key players in politics are still the same that existed during the civil war, domestic marionettes controlled by foreign strings, who have demolished “the green and the dry” as the Lebanese call when the plague of locust prey on and devour the crops of an entire field but still would like to get more of the economy.
Trouble in Lebanon
For the past 45-50 years, the Armenian community has been in constant challenge of surviving due to the harsh civil war, financial and physical losses and difficulties that have let no choice for some but to leave the country, if they were still able to secure visas or suffer the consequences.
As if the financial crisis wasn’t enough, they now face an even more dangerous situation with the global spread of The COVID19 Pandemic, so even if they are hard-working people, who have gone out to get their daily bread under the constant fire, they now have to stay at home and try not to contract any sickness that will leave their children and families orphans.
Effect of War on the community
In all these situations Lebanese Armenians have tried to live with a good reputation and honor, believing begging is a sin, and that God will provide. People have sold their properties to survive, lands, houses, jewelry…
The Armenian political parties have done their best to secure certain rights, as in securing the right number of chairs in a government, and eventually employing some lucky Armenians in some government jobs.
Lebanese Armenians have always supported their parties in return for martial protection of regions during invasions or during elections. These same parties organize concerts during good times and donations during hard times. Working side by side with their sister educational, cultural, medical, and sports organizations, for and with civilians and religious personalities to make the community life more interesting and wealthy. Nowadays these parties are distributing donations, coupons, hot food, and essentials.
During the civil war, a father had to be doing three jobs at the same time to feed his family. Unfortunately, ending up selling his family-owned properties and businesses to help give his family a better education in a respectable Armenian school. Even that didn’t work because the value of Lebanese money dropped and the money he had received from the sale was just enough to buy a few days of the household supplies.
In some families, children had to drop out of school because they couldn’t pay the tuition. They had the choice to attend other schools, but even then, they were denied affidavit reports about their grades and had to repeat their school years. Devastating to 10-11-year-old smart students were forced to drop out or be humiliated. Some of them ended up working in factories or joined monasteries.
12 Step Guideline to help Overcome Financial Crisis
The Lebanese Armenian community has struggled throughout the years, to maintain their financial stability with hard work and a lot of patience but unfortunately the more they persevere, they are given harder situations. Although times could get hard, The Lebanese Armenian will almost never show you that they are in need of help, they would not risk their past, their dignity, and reputation. Yet it is a well-known fact that the Lebanese economy is a remittance-dependent economy, so the financial assistance sent to your families and relatives will be of great help; however, my suggestion to whoever lives abroad and would like to help would be don’t just feed them, teach them :
Donate to the local charity associations
Donate to all the organizations that send help to the Armenian political parties active in Lebanon, because no matter Hunchak, Dashnak or Ramgavar, they are all trying to preserve the Armenian dignity.
Donate to ARS
Since 1930 The LOKH or Armenian Relief Society of Lebanon has been serving the community with 26 branches. the ARS – Armenian Relief Cross of Lebanon has established a Medico-Social Center, called Araxi Boulghourdjian, that serves the locals with medically at very low symbolic rates.
As the Political and financial crisis arose in Lebanon, even before the COVID-19 Pandemic, The Armenian Relief Society started a campaign to help the Lebanese Armenian community, by donating online, to help the needy families with boxes of groceries, nutrition, medication, and basic needs or sponsoring hot meals.
Donate to ARS by choosing the Ars Emergency Appeal – Lebanon.
Donate to AGBU Lebanon
AGBU Lebanon operates in the Amanos and Khalil Badawi Dispensaries since 1949.
Donate to AEBU Lebanon
1988, A.E.B.U. founded its first medico-social center in Beirut, Nahr (Hadjin) region.
Buy products from companies who employ Armenians
Consumers, especially if you are of Lebanese origin and live abroad, ask for Lebanese products at your local markets, because if there is demand, the merchants will be encouraged to import from Lebanese factories, who might employ Armenian workers. These products could be types of Armenian frozen packed foods, that are packed in Lebanon.
Buy from Lebanese Armenian merchants
Most of the Lebanese Armenian merchants feel safe when they have Armenian employees working for them, even if they come from Syria, they would love to cooperate with people who understand them. Hard times help you know who are your real friends and family, and there is a long list of merchants who are very much concerned about their employees who struggled to feed their families. The list includes huge creation and export names in fashion, food, jewelry, shoes, etc.
Help your relatives start up their own businesses
If you live abroad and consider helping one of your relatives, you may suggest to them to think of starting up their own small business and give them guidance maybe help them market and export their merchandise abroad. Feeding someone fish is good, helping them fish would be even better.
Sponsor students in Lebanon
Help students graduate from College. Somewhere in Lebanon, you might have a relative struggling to send their children to school, if you can help financially it would be great, but if you know some organization that could help, putting a good word would help just fine.
Sponsor students abroad
What if universities, where you are settled, are cheaper than those in Lebanon, what if you welcome them to your home for a few years
Sponsor Migrant Workers
After 911, the world started treating Lebanese people in General as terrorists, and the Lebanese Armenians are a part of Lebanon, that is why immigration became harder for those who needed to travel and work abroad. If You need employees why not choose a Lebanese Armenian one.
Establish a business in Armenia and encourage Lebanese Armenians to move there
Lebanese people have good taste in many domains that require keeping up to date, and Armenians living there have been effected with the love of knowledge, fashion, exquisite cuisine, arts, etc… it would be a great shame not to use their taste in other parts of the world. Besides, Lebanese Armenians have been raised in the love of their motherland, and they are so hopeless that they deserve a new and fresh start.
Buy Embroidery from Lebanon
The Lebanese Armenian community is rich with Artisanat shops like one that ARS-LOKH manages, whose pieces are made by stay home Armenian women. Moreover, there are individuals who are dedicated to reviving old Armenian Embroidery and Yevnige Yacoubian is one of those who happens to teach the art and sell online.
Sponsor students at the Armenian Seminaries
Most of the graduates of Armenian Seminaries who didn’t end up as religious servants of the Lord, are well educated and happen to serve the Armenian culture all over the world as teachers or reporters or musicians.
Sponsor students At the Trchnots Puyn- Birds Nest Orphanage
Unity is Strength
In the end, no matter where you are, spread the idea of love of our identity, to love each other unconditionally, without limits and endlessly.
Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing, and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.