Posted 01 January 2005
AZAD-HYE (1 January 2005): New year means new expectations. Before welcoming the new year let us have a look at how a traditional Armenian community (such as Aleppo, Syria) has spent the last month of the year 2004.
The weather during December 2004 was cold in Aleppo but somehow pleasant, enabling the people to enjoy the season's joy. Only for few days the degree went below zero.
Christian recitals were conducted by religious groups throughout the month and the believers frequented their churches. “Aram Manougian” Armenian Community Center was busy every day with New Year celebrations, tailored for children and teenagers. The facilities provided in this Center are significant: halls for lectures and seminars, children playgrounds, internet services, well-known lending library, venues for different social, cultural, sports activities. Since 1984 this Center has been the focal point of the community life in Aleppo, under the auspices of the Prelacy itself. It is located in an Armenian neighborhood called “the Villas”, although the quality of the buildings there is far from what a “villa” usually means). “Ani” Restaurant in the Center has the capacity of serving 400 people. It is a favorite place for wedding parties, besides the usual day to day function as an ordinary restaurant with Armenian ambiance.
On the cultural aspect it is interesting to learn that a group of intellectuals meet every Tuesday for many years now. They discuss various issues of national concern, adding international perspective to their debates. They call themselves “Friends of Armenian Thought” (see website www.amidk.com).
On 5th December 2004 a presentation of Aleppo Armenian comedian writers took place in “Aram Manougian” Community Center. Three prominent writers were invited to interact with the public: Hagop Bekiarian (contributes to “Tidag” monthly of Beirut), Hagop Michaelian (contributes to “Zartonk” daily of Beirut) and Krikor Keleshian (well known play director). The participants sadly recorded the deterioration of humor works presented on Aleppo stages. Instead plays aim now at attracting cheap laughter, ranking as superficial entertainment. Keleshian went to the point of saying that “Aleppo Armenians want to laugh more than their desire to think”.
On 11th December 2004 the contract between the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian Evangelical Community in the Middle East was renewed for another ten years of free use of the Consulate premises. This agreement will enable the Armenian diplomatic mission in Aleppo to carry its activities with affordable budget. The Consulate carries also some cultural programs. For example, in December 2004, well known Armenian singer Susanna Markarian and her daughter 16 years old star Sirousho performed under the patronage of the Consulate. Such functions provide financial income for the Consulate.
Since 1995 the “Hamazkayin Archil Gorky” Art School of Aleppo had the brilliant idea of organizing an annual exhibition of art named “Autumn Exhibition”, which is occupying now a high spot on the cultural agenda of the city of Aleppo. The opening ceremony of the Exhibition this year took place on 14th December 2004, in one of the traditional hotels of Aleppo (“Zamaria Hotel”), with the presence of the Mayor of Aleppo,. This year the Exhibition was dedicated to the 100th birthday anniversary of Archile Gorky. Local newspapers reflected on this subject extensively.
On 18th December 2004, an Armenian educational seminar took place, depending on local resources only (usually such seminars involve visitor-lecturers from Armenia or Lebanon). This time representatives of the three Armenian secondary schools and other elementary schools attended the seminar, under the patronage of the newly elected Head of Aleppo Armenian Apostolic Church Shahan Dzayrakouyn Vartabed Sarkissian (previously Head of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Isfahan, Iran). The main topics were: 1) Defining Education; 2) Recognizing new educational methods and 3) Implementing them in the education process.
On 29th December 2004, the main Armenian organizations of Aleppo (affiliated to the three traditional political parties) agreed to form a Central Committee for the Commemoration of the 90th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Such unity has been introduced for the first time in 1985 and was repeated in 1995 and is expected to be repeated also in 2005. It is our hope that this Committee continues to function on continuous basis, not once every ten years.
“Kantsasar” is the only Armenian publication of Aleppo, a city that used to have three Armenian dailies half a century ago. Now this single weekly publication (since 1990) covers the news of some 50 thousand Armenians of Syria. It employs half a dozen of part-time workers. Some twenty volunteer writers contribute to the periodical on regular basis. “Kantsatsar” is published as an official periodical of the Prelacy of Aleppo and covers cultural and social news without discrimination, but when it comes to political viewpoint the one of Tashnaktsoutyoun prevails.
In his New Year message, the Head of the Aleppo Apostolic Church Shahan Dzayrakouyn Vartabed Sarkissian referred to the “attempt of some people to disguise their limitless desire aiming at boasting their EGOs, under the motto of leading a happy life”. His Grace noted that “those who live under this doctrine, try to establish new rules of the game and adopt concepts that are not consistent with the prevailing norms and interests of the community. Thus the feelings of jealousy and enmity build up amongst the believers, hidden agendas are introduced, highly valued national and religious ideas are served as motionless slogans only ? all these are geared to the glory of the individual”. We hope that the new Head of the Church believes what he preaches, in contrast with the old leader who did not refrain from glorifying himself to the point of publishing his own jubilee album, gathering articles that praised him and selecting himself pictures in which he appeared in photogenic styles. We do not think that a Head of Church should use financial means of his congregation to publish self worshiping publications.
About 5 thousand Armenians live in Damascus. They have three elementary schools (one of them up to the level of the 9th grade). After many decades of community discord, Damascus Armenians agreed to participate for the first time in democratic elections, as a result of which a new Prelacy Body was formed. This Body proceeded to approve the appointment of Armash Vartabed Nalbandian as Head of Church (Etchmiadzin affiliated, not particularly hailed by followers of Antelias). In his lengthy interview with “Ararad” weekly of Beirut (issue 24-30 December 2004), Armash Vartabed referred extensively to the mission of Etchmiadzin Catholicosate, the hardships of the Soviet era, the new challenges with the advent of foreign religious movements, etc. Luckily, at the end of the interview, he remembered to talk about his own parish (still in general terms), saying that “Damascus is a center of great political importance in the region. We retain warm relations with the Syrian authorities and the Sister Churches, three of whom have their own Seats in Damascus (Syriac Orthodox Seat, Greek Orthodox Antioch Seat, Greek Catholic Antioch Seat). We develop also relations with the Islamic figures and participate in Christian-Islam dialogue. We believe in the cooperation of the civilizations”. His Grace did not disclose any particular information about Damascus Armenians.
On 17th December 2004, the Head of the Apostolic Church of Aleppo paid an official visit to Damascus and was welcomed by followers of the Cilician Catholicosate (Antelias) and ignored by the others. His Grace marked the 75th anniversary of the Miatsial (Unity) Armenian School and placed the first stone in the construction site of the new center, which will host the premises of the school and other community functions. The current building is not fit for modern needs. We hope that the construction of the site does not take more than 2 years.