by Mike Derderian
The first question I am asked when a person knows I am Armenian is, “Aren't you a bit far from home? What made you Armenians immigrate in the first place?”
The presence of Armenians in the Arab world dates back to the 13th century. However, it wasn't until 1914, just before the WWI, at the time of the Armenian Genocide, leading to their mass immigration, that Armenian communities began to be formed in this part of the world.
Armenians came to Jordan, believe it or not, on foot “Walking all the way from their motherland through Turkey, under the scorching sun, children, women and the elderly made their way to the deserts of Syria and Jordan. Some were killed on the way, others perished either from exhaustion or butchered at the hands of heartless soldiers.
The ones who were lucky to survive this grueling journey were received and generously treated by Arabs. Al Sharif Hussein offered them protection and told his Arab subjects through a formal letter they should be treated well and their language and religion must be respected.
The letter still exists and is part of the many documents that Armenians are proud of, always reminding them of the humanistic role Arabs played in helping Armenians to survive.
Today, 24 April, Armenians are meeting at the Sorp Tatyos Church to commemorate the memory of those who died in 1914 for it is through their devotion and persistence the Armenian language and tradition survived. Armenian communities in various Arab countries are indebted to those who gave them homes and a new chance in life.
In search for a better life, some refugees decided to stay in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, formerly known as Belad Al Sham, others traveled to Europe and America.
Armenians in Jordan and through out the world were able to prove themselves skillful craftsmen in fields like photography, art, Jewelry, medicine, architecture, car mechanics and shoe-making.
The early Armenian refugees first resided in places like Ma'an, Karak, Shobak and Tafileh in 1915. Yet it wasn't until 1928 and 1930 when they began to move to Amman and live in what is known today as the Armenian quarter in Ashrafiyah today, it composes the Armenian Church, a school and two clubs.
But the first Armenian school was in Ruseifa in the early 1930s to teach the Armenian alphabet to children orphaned during WWI. In 1933 their own private school with a little chapel came to exist.
In 1960 the Armenian bishop of Jerusalem made generous contributions to build the current church called Sorp Tatyos, meaning St Tatyos. The head of the Armenian Church is the Archbishop Vahan Topalian.
The school is called Yuzbeshian-Gyulbenkian consisting of an elementary school and a Kindergarten. The number of students is about 140 and admits children from KG up to the 6th grade after which students are transferred to other non-Armenian schools. The school teaches Armenian, English and Arabic.
Armenians also have two clubs in Al Ashrafiyah, Watani club and Homenetmen and are considered to be part and parcel of the Armenian life style.
The Homentmen club dates back to 1937. Edward Tchackmakian, president of the club said, “The club is a place for social gathering, offering and arranging different activities, most importantly we have a basketball team for all ages, and a large scouts movement of 92.”
Aline Beneyan, a journalist at the Jordan Times, and head scouts leader in The Homentmen said, “We aim to make our children learn how to become good Jordanian citizens. “We have two identities which is something that makes us proud, however, it is also essential to give importance to our roots.”
The Armenian Relief Society. was founded in 1949, as a charitable organization. Maral Derderian, president of the society said, “The society works under the supervision of the Union of Voluntary Societies in Amman. Their work revolves around helping the needy by giving them monthly salaries, we also help students who require money for school and college tuitions”. The society's board consists and about 135 members and all work on voluntary basis.
The Watani Club has been in existence since 1946 and was registered in 1955 and its current place dates back to 1973. “The activities held at the club vary between cultural activities, sports, and drama for we have a stage that allows our members the chance to act, in addition to an Armenian folklore dance group that reflects the artistic and cultural aspects of Armenia,” said Anto Lepegian, its president.
Varougan Sarkisian, 76, had a business in medical supplies and is now retired, said his father-in-law Isaac Korkian known as Isaac Saliba, was the first Armenian to be given Jordanian citizenship.
“I'm Jordanian, and I love Jordan. I'm also Armenian.” He further added, “lately a monument was built in Armenia to commemorate how Arabs helped us during our time of hardship.”
There are about 4,000 Armenians living in Jordan, the new generations of Armenians were born in Jordan and all consider themselves as Jordanian citizens of Armenian roots who have deep affinity to the Kingdom. So if you ask any Armenian born in Jordan, a question about his identity, he will proudly say “I'm a Jordanian.”
Source: “The Star”, Amman, 02 May 2003