By Nairi Mkrtichian
Kamishli is a newly built city located on the outskirts of northwestern Syria, bordering the Turkish city of Mtsbin. Kamishli was founded by the French in 1926 and the first homes were built in 1924. Armenians first started immigrating to this uninviting city in 1927. They preferred to live in this deserted city with the solace to be near the native lands and the hope to definitely return to those lands some day. The majority of immigrants were Kurdish-speaking Armenians from the Taron-Turuberan valley.
In 1938, the residents of Kamishli built nearly twenty Armenian villages and brick apartments in a short amount of time and were the first cultivators of the lands. The newly created villages also had a chain of 18 schools.
The villages were left almost empty after the immigration that began in 1946. Nearly 3,500 Armenians left for Armenia during the first immigration and this first influx was followed by another 6,500 Armenians in 1965-66. The rest of the population emigrated from Kamishli later and the villages of Kamishli were left almost entirely empty.
Today?s Armenians of Kamishli have shaken off the veil of their humdrum existence of the past. Armenian and Arabic have come to replace Kurdish as the household languages, Armenian families don?t follow foreign customs and traditions and the colony has become self-sufficient. Armenians are mainly engaged in trade, farming and many crafts. A large number of young Armenian graduates are involved in community events thanks to the opportunities provided by Armenia and the Galust Gulbenkian Foundation.
The city has undergone changes throughout time. The former earthen homes have been replaced by concrete, multi-story buildings. Modern times have had an impact on life in different spheres. The ?Tchagtchag? River of Kamishli has stripped the plantations, the water flows smoothly and the spacious lands have turned into expansive wheat fields.
Kamishli is densely populated with a 75% Kurdish population that has settled mainly in the outskirts of the city. There is a small Arab population in the city (most of them live in the villages and are involved in farming). Christian Syrians are also a majority in Kamishli, followed by the Armenians, Galtians, Protestants and Assyrians. There are a total of 300,000 people in Kamishli and the Armenian community is comprised of 8,500 people of whom 2,000 are Armenian Catholics.
Kamishli has an eparchial vicar, which is liable to the national primacy of the Aleppo diocese. The vicar also sponsors the small Armenian colonies of Hasiche, Terik and Rasl Ul Ayn. The national vicar is comprised of districts, a board of trustees and a hospice; there is also an eparchial vicar, a monk and a priest.
The National Seminary of Euphrates (pre-school, kindergarten and middle school) has 1,200 students and a teaching staff of nearly 40 teachers. Its mission is to educate Armenian children and preserve the Armenian identity. The three schools of the seminary have been renovated with help from the Galust Gulbenkian Foundation. The middle school was founded in 1959 and carries out educational programs at the National Seminary of Yeprat. The seminary has always had a high level of education with its state final exams.
The St. Hakob Church of the community is still the only plain national structure in Kamishli. The Homenetmen works actively toward instilling the Armenian identity in the new generation with its athletic and educational programs. The union?s scout trumpet group and the scout group ?Eagles? always fill the hearts of the community with their ceremonies on state and national holidays. The Homenetmen has its own club, which also includes the Hamazgayin and other youth unions.
The above mentioned unions have been and still are the major role-players in the Armenian upbringing of generations and instill in them the Armenian identity and national ideology.
The AGBU also carries out benevolent activities in the community and the union had its own club with the contribution by Garnik Yagupian. The Garakeozian and Tchinishian institutions also help with their benevolent contributions for needy families. The ?Tchinishian? institution built a four-story building foreseen for needy families.
The Armenian Catholic community also has its vicar, a church, school and other structures. The Mesrop Seminary has nearly 300 male and female students studying at the pre-school, kindergarten and middle school.
It is worth mentioning that there are over 100 Armenian women in Kamishli married to men who have gone to Armenia to receive a higher education.
There are two days in the year when I would like to be in my birthplace to feel a little more Armenian and those days are April 24 and May 28. On those days, over 3,000 Armenians gather at the spacious balcony of the kindergarten to watch the concert and listen to the speeches. The ?Artsvik? and trumpet scouts add more energy to the day.
The Armenian community of Kamishli exists today and preserves its morals and pure Armenian spirit. There are national unions and organizations with the deep faith in the future. But how long can they continue to believe in an uncertain future? Won?t it melt away under the scorching sun in the desert of Jezire, like the fate of the Armenians in various communities?? Only time will show.
Source: “Hayern Aysor”, Yerevan, 28 June 2009