THE ARMENIANS IN LEBANON
Dr John Ahmaranian
There has been an Armenian presence in Lebanon for centuries. Today, there are 170,000 Armenians in Lebanon, including Armenian refugees from Syria. Around 4% of the population. Prior to 1973, the number was higher because the community lost a portion of its population to emigration.
The Armenians in Lebanon Prior to the Genocide of 1915
Armenians first established contact with Lebanon when the Armenian king, Tigran the Great conquered Phoenicia from the Seleucids and made it part of his short lived Armenian Empire. When the Roman Empire established its rule over both Armenia and the Middle East, there were some Roman troops of Armenian origin who served in the Roman Army, and it is not impossible that few of them stayed in Lebanon. The Beit El Bae’h (The Bayans of Zgorta, a town in Northern Lebanon) claims its origin from that period (1st century B.C.). After Armenia converted to Christianity in 301, Armenian pilgrims established contact with Lebanon and its people on their way to Jerusalem; some of whom would settle there.
Three important information show the presence of the Armenians in Lebanon:
1) On the north-east side of Ghosta there is a summit overlooking this township with a name redolent of divinity and glory. If one turns right as one approaches, one comes to a great monastery, that of the Armenian Catholics. When Bzommar is mentioned, it is of the monastery that one immediately thinks, for it has an international reputation as a center of religious, cultural and commercial importance, drawing many visitors. The monastery dominates the heart of Kesserouan and is reminiscent of the medieval abbeys of Europe. It was on August 27th, 1749, that Abraham Ardzivian expressed the wish for the monastery to be named as that of the Holy Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary. In September 1749, the hill destined to become the site of the monastery was acquired by the Armenians thanks to Maronite Patriarch Simaan and the Khazen family. The purchase price was nine hundred pounds, paid half in kind and half in prayers and Masses. Building began in 1749 and in 1750 a few rooms became available for occupation.
2) Born in Damascus, Adib Ishaq (1856−85) was an Arab writer of Armenian origin. Ishaq was a precocious youngster who received his formative education in Arabic and French at the French Lazarist school there and under the Jesuits in Beirut. Excelling at languages (Armenian, French, Arabic, Turkish), he supplemented his income by writing and translating and eventually dedicated himself to poetry, translation, and what today might be called advocacy journalism. He established newspapers of opinion. His outspoken writings resulted in his being exiled from Egypt. He took up residency in Paris, but at the end of his life he returned to Lebanon.
3) Two Ottoman Governors of Mount Lebanon of Armenian Origin:
a- Daud Pasha (1861-1868)
b- Ohannes Kuyumjian (23 Dec. 1912 – Sept. 1915
(To be continued)
The Armenians in Lebanon (1915-1975)
As we have seen, the Armenian presence in Lebanon during the Ottoman period was minimal; however, there was a large influx of Armenians after the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Maronite Patriach Elias Howayek opened his arms to the Armenian refugees and said, “The piece of bread that we have, we will share it with our Armenian brothers.” The Armenians started a new life in the midst of the Lebanese hospitable people. Later on, a thriving Armenian community was formed in the neighbouring district of Bourj Hammoud which became a city, and Father Paul Aris, (from the Armenian Congregation of Bzommar) who built it, became its first mayor.
Bourj Hammoud (or Burj Hammud) (Armenian: Պուրճ Համուտ, Arabic: برج حموﺪ ) is a suburb in east Beirut, Lebanon in the Metn district. The suburb is heavily populated by Armenians as it is where most survivors of the Armenian Genocide settled. Bourj Hammoud is an industrious area and is one of the most densely populated cities in the Middle East. It has a majority Armenian population but also has a notable number of other Lebanese Christians, a considerable Shi’a Muslim population, a Kurdish population, and some Palestinian refugees and newcomer Christian refugees from Iraq.
Most streets in Bourj Hammoud are named after various Armenian cities such as Yerevan, mountains such as Aragats, and rivers such as Araks. A lot of streets are also named after cities and regions in modern-day-Turkey which were heavily populated by Armenians such as Cilicia, Marash, Sis, Adana, etc.
In 1939, after the French ceded the Syrian territory of Alexandretta to Turkey, Armenians, other Christians, and Arabs from the area moved to the Bekaa Valley. The Armenians were grouped in Anjar, where a community exists to this day. Some of these Armenian refugees had been settled by the French mandate authorities in camps in the South of Lebanon which would later make way for Palestinian refugees.
As it was the case of the whole population of Lebanon, the years before the Civil War, were the most prosperous years for the Armenians.
The Armenians in Lebanon (1975-present)
During the Lebanese Civil War, Armenians, grouped in Bourj Hammoud and Anjar, did their best to remain neutral. There are three prominent Armenian political parties in Lebanon: the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnag), Social Democrat Hunchakian Party (Hunchag) and Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (Ramgavar Party). They play significant influence in all facets of Armenian life.
The three Armenian religious communities have their representatives in the Parliament and in the Government as well. Put forth by the Armenian bloc of the Lebanese Parliament, the legislature unanimously approved on 4 April 1997 a resolution, calling for the commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government.
Armenians live in many parts of Lebanon. Historically most Armenians have lived in Beirut and Metn District. From Beirut proper we can mention grander Ashrafieh: Hadjen (Corniche Nahr), Khalil Badawi, Karm el Zeytoun (Հայաշէն), Rmeil, Jmmeyze, Soursok, and Jeitawi. Armenians have had strong presence also in other Beirut regions such as Khandaq Ghamik, Zuqaq al-Blat, Zarif, Bab Idris, Sanayeh (Kantari), Clemenceau and Hamra, among others. During the civil war many of these Armenians emigrated or fled to safer regions in Lebanon. From the Beirut suburbs, there are big concentrations in Metn District, particularly Bourj Hammoud, Dora-Amanos, Fanar, Rawda, Jdeide, Zalka, Jal El Dib, Antelias, Mzher (Dzaghgatzor), Naccash, Dbayeh, Awkar and in the regions situated from Antelias to Bikfaya. To the north, there are further Armenian populations scattered in Jounieh, Jbeil (Byblos) and Tripoli (particularly the Mina area). In the Bekaa, there are Armenians living in Zahlé and most notably Anjar.