Armenians have sought their fortunes and found sanctuary in Arab countries for centuries

An Armenian Apostolic priest holds a ceremony in Aleppo (main), which hosts a small, prosperous population. The Syrian city’s Jdaideh quarter, most associated with the community, was heavily damaged during the civil war. (AFP)
An Armenian Apostolic priest holds a ceremony in Aleppo (main), which hosts a small, prosperous population. The Syrian city’s Jdaideh quarter, most associated with the community, was heavily damaged during the civil war. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2021

Armenians have sought their fortunes and found sanctuary in Arab countries for centuries

Armenians have sought their fortunes and found sanctuary in Arab countries for centuries
  • Armenians have a long history as one of the most ancient and sophisticated communities in the Middle East 
  • Those who escaped the 1915 genocide found a warm welcome in the cosmopolitan cities of the Levant 

LONDON: When Armen Sarkissian, the president of Armenia, stepped off his plane in Riyadh in October this year, he became the first president of the small, former Soviet republic to visit Saudi Arabia. 
For nearly 30 years, since Armenia declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, there have been virtually no diplomatic relations between it and some Islamic countries. 
One reason for the absence of ties is the long-running Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, which, on the face of it, pits Christian Armenia against Muslim Azerbaijan. This, along with the Armenian genocide of 1915 by Ottoman Turks, dominates Yerevan’s relations with many Middle Eastern countries. 
Geopolitically, the continued presence of several thousand Russian troops in Armenia has ensured the country remains firmly within Moscow’s sphere of influence, leaving successive governments with little room to maneuver. 




The first Armenian presidential visit to Saudi Arabia since it achieved independence. (AFP)

Beyond politics, however, relations between Armenians and Arabs, especially on a personal level, have been a good deal closer. Indeed, Armenians have been seeking their fortunes and finding sanctuary in Arab countries for centuries, for the most part harmoniously, albeit often as members of a low-profile community.  
Armenia, a country of 3 million, is a small land-locked state, plagued by earthquakes and hemmed in by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, and Azerbaijan to the east. Yerevan, the capital, is a Tsarist gem with an overlay of Soviet kitsch and striking modernism. 
The ruins of the medieval capital at Ani bear testament to the fact that, before the First World War, Armenians lived west of Mount Ararat across much of eastern Turkey. But the events of 1915 (and before) propelled tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Armenians into a diaspora to the south. 
There they found a warm welcome in the cosmopolitan cities of the Levant among existing communities of their compatriots.  




Armenians were major builders in the Ottoman Empire. (AFP)

Armenians were famous builders. Indeed, Sinan Pasha, the great architect of the Ottoman Empire, was reportedly of Armenian heritage. Many in the diaspora carved out niches as middle-men, translators, bankers and merchants. One such character, a Mr. Youkoumian, is an anti-hero of Evelyn Waugh’s comic novel “Black Mischief,” set in a fictionalized Ethiopia in the 1930s. 
The Armenians were able to maintain their identity through the Ottoman Empire’s millet system and later through the colonial mandates. Under these systems, payment of taxes and settlement of personal status disputes involving births, deaths, marriage and inheritance were devolved to religious leaders. 
As such, the Armenian bishops and archbishops were responsible for the behavior of their communities. From Aleppo to Cairo, from Basra to Beirut, the church was, and is, the center of Armenian life, providing welfare to the needy and education to the young. 
This has resulted in a strong sense of community and identity, which was nurtured and supported by philanthropy. Calouste Gulbenkian, for instance, an early Armenian pioneer of the oil industry, became fabulously wealthy and funded dozens of Armenian schools, orphanages and churches across the Middle East through his foundation. 
For the most part, these communities were apolitical. An exception to this was the career of Nubar Pasha, a famous prime minister of Egypt in the late 19th century. He served three terms of varying lengths, helped negotiate the terms of the construction of the Suez Canal, reformed the system of consular courts under which the colonial powers maintained a parallel justice system, and managed fickle rulers such as the energetic but spendthrift Ismail Pasha. 
Nubar Pasha’s patron, Boghos Bey, was an Armenian who became secretary to Muhammed Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt. When Alaa Al-Aswany chose the title for his brilliant novel “The Yacoubian Building” he was paying homage to the Armenian contribution to Cairo. 
In the eastern Mediterranean, Beirut’s Burj Hammoud is often seen as the Armenian area of the Lebanese capital. It was formed first as an area of refugee settlement after the First World War and took in thousands who had fled the massacres in eastern Turkey and northern Syria. 

INNUMBERS

29,743 square km - Area of Armenia

3 million - total population according to 2011 consensus

Inland, Anjar on the Beirut-Damascus highway is also an Armenian town known for its beautiful archaeological remains and as the former headquarters of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon. 
Under Lebanon’s confessional system, Armenians are guaranteed six seats in the 128-seat parliament, but have maintained a low political profile. 
To the south, the Cathedral of St James is at the center of the Armenian area of the Old City of Jerusalem, the smallest of the four quarters. 
The Armenians are one of the three primary custodians of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, reputedly built on the site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the Old City. The monks in their distinctive black cowls kept the traditions of the Armenian church alive during the long decades of Soviet atheism in Armenia itself.
In Syria, Aleppo was the center of the Armenian population. The famous Baron Hotel in the city was owned and managed by the Mazloumian family. There, as a relatively prosperous minority, the Armenians are believed to have largely supported the Assad regime. 
As a result, Jdaideh (New), an historic area outside the old walls of Aleppo and the quarter most associated with the Armenians, has been heavily damaged in the course of the civil war. Distressing images of old palaces and museums being blown up pervade the internet. 
And in Iran, from which modern-day Armenia receives much of its energy supplies, there is the famous Holy Savior Cathedral, also referred to as the Vank, in the district of New Julfa in Isfahan. 
In the early 17th century, as part of a scorched earth policy to try to head off the Turkish armies, Shah Abbas of Persia forcibly settled thousands of Armenians south of the river Zayande that runs through Isfahan. Armenians remain a sizable minority in Iran. 
Today the Kardashians, Cher, Andre Agassi and Charles Aznavour, to name just a few, are famous scions of Armenia internationally. But, closer to their homeland, the Armenians have a long history as one of the most ancient and successful communities in the Middle East. 


Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast; 4 dead, 7 missing

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast; 4 dead, 7 missing
Updated 22 January 2022

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast; 4 dead, 7 missing

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia coast; 4 dead, 7 missing
  • Defense Ministry spokesman said navy divers rescued 21 people on Thursday night and 7 were still missing
  • Local media reported that a 10-year-old girl was among those who died

TUNIS: Four people died after a boat carrying Europe-bound migrants on the Mediterranean Sea sank off Tunisia’s coast, the Tunisian Defense Ministry said Friday.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri said navy divers rescued 21 people on Thursday night and seven were still missing. The boat was heading to Italy, Zekri said.
Local media reported that a 10-year-old girl was among those who died.
Survivors told authorities that the boat had left the island of Kerkennah, near the port city of Sfax, carrying 32 Tunisians.
The UN has estimated that 20 percent of about 115,000 migrants who reached Europe by sea last year started the journey from Tunisia. Social unrest has gripped the North African country has for years as the economy worsened and unemployment reached 18 percent.
The central Mediterranean route, which runs from North Africa to southern Italy, is the busiest and deadliest migration route to Europe. People travel from Libya and Tunisia in crowded boats and at the mercy of the smugglers they pay to get them across the sea.
About 60,000 people arrived in Italy by sea last year, and some 1,200 died or disappeared on the journey, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
On Wednesday, an amphibious unit of Tunisia’s navy rescued 23 people from a sinking boat as they left Tunisia for Italy, according to the Tunisian Defense ministry. It said 13 of the passengers were from Mali and 10 were from the Ivory Coast.


Syrian boy to receive four prosthetic limbs in Italy

Thanks to donations totalling €114,000 ($129,000), Mustafa Al-Nazzar, 6, will be treated by world-leading doctors at the INAIL prosthetic center near Bologna. (Reuters/Illustrative)
Thanks to donations totalling €114,000 ($129,000), Mustafa Al-Nazzar, 6, will be treated by world-leading doctors at the INAIL prosthetic center near Bologna. (Reuters/Illustrative)
Updated 22 January 2022

Syrian boy to receive four prosthetic limbs in Italy

Thanks to donations totalling €114,000 ($129,000), Mustafa Al-Nazzar, 6, will be treated by world-leading doctors at the INAIL prosthetic center near Bologna. (Reuters/Illustrative)
  • 6-figure donation will send 6-year-old born with no limbs to world-class clinic
  • Condition believed to have been caused by Assad regime gas attack during mother’s pregnancy

LONDON: A Syrian child born with no limbs after his mother endured a gas attack during her pregnancy is set to receive four prosthetic replacements in Italy following a charity campaign.

Thanks to donations totalling €114,000 ($129,000), Mustafa Al-Nazzar, 6, will be treated by world-leading doctors at the INAIL prosthetic center near Bologna.

“It will be a complicated job, but we aim to allow Mustafa to live an autonomous life,” said Gregorio Teti, technical director of the center that has worked with Alex Zanardi, the Formula One driver who lost his legs in a crash. 

Al-Nazzar’s mother was pregnant when the Syrian regime dropped gas bombs on Idlib province in 2016. The event has been linked to the boy’s condition.

Like so many others caught up in the regime’s oppression and the ongoing conflict, the family fled to Turkey, where Al-Nazzar was photographed being held in the air by his father, who lost a leg following a bomb attack. 

The famous photo captures their beaming smiles despite the suffering they have both endured.

The photographer was honored by the Siena International Photo Awards, which diverted the world’s eyes to the photo, inspiring the organizers of the prize to launch a charity appeal for Al-Nazzar.

“We feared that after the attention to the photo died down, the boy would get no help,” said Luca Venturi, the prize founder.

The Italian government has assisted with visas to bring the whole family to Italy, including Al-Nazzar’s two younger sisters. The Catholic Church has offered the family an apartment. 

Teti said Al-Nazzar’s new limbs could be adjusted to work thanks to small movements the boy makes in his shoulders and torso, which will require lengthy training sessions. 

Venturi said: “As he grows he will need to change limbs, while translators will be needed until the family can learn Italian. We are aiming to get to €400,000 raised.”

Al-Nazzar’s father told Italian media: “Mustafa is really happy, he has said he will finally be able to walk, hug me and go to school on his own.”


Jailed British-Iranian man begins hunger strike 

Anoosheh Ashoori (L) is staging a hunger strike in solidarity with Barry Rosen (R), who is staging his own hunger strike outside the nuclear talks in Vienna. (Amnesty/Screenshot)
Anoosheh Ashoori (L) is staging a hunger strike in solidarity with Barry Rosen (R), who is staging his own hunger strike outside the nuclear talks in Vienna. (Amnesty/Screenshot)
Updated 22 January 2022

Jailed British-Iranian man begins hunger strike 

Anoosheh Ashoori (L) is staging a hunger strike in solidarity with Barry Rosen (R), who is staging his own hunger strike outside the nuclear talks in Vienna. (Amnesty/Screenshot)
  • Anoosheh Ashoori striking in solidarity with American ex-hostage Barry Rosen
  • Rosen on hunger strike to highlight Iran’s hostage-taking strategy

LONDON: A British-Iranian dual national imprisoned in Iran will begin a hunger strike on Sunday in support of an American former hostage of Tehran who is staging his own hunger strike outside the nuclear talks in Vienna.

Anoosheh Ashoori is staging the strike in solidarity with Barry Rosen, 77, who, as then-press attache at the US Embassy in Tehran, was held hostage for 444 days between 1979 and 1981.

Ashoori was arrested in August 2017 and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for espionage. He is now jailed in Evin prison in Tehran.

His wife Sherry said: “We are extremely concerned for his health as he approaches his 68th birthday, but having failed to see any progress in the UK Foreign Office’s efforts to secure his release, and no sign of the welfare of hostages held by Iran currently being a priority of Western governments, he will begin his hunger strike.”

Rosen says hostages should be released as part of a new nuclear deal, and has also been joined on hunger strike by Lebanese US resident Nizar Zakka, who was detained by Iran between 2015 and 2019.

Rosen told The Guardian: “I am receiving heart-rending messages from Iranians, and I am absolutely humbled that Anoosheh is doing this in support of me.

“I support him completely in return and I urge him to be careful and look after himself. I am starting to feel tired and weak, but I am determined to continue.

“I am here to call on the Americans and the Europeans to make the release of the hostages a condition of any agreement to renew the Iran nuclear deal.

“This has been going on for 40 years, and people are being thrown in jail with no evidence. There has to be an agreement that this will end.”

Rosen said he is concerned that Western countries are not taking Iran’s hostage-taking strategy seriously. “It is like herding cats. Each country seems to deal with its dual national hostages on its own,” he added.

“There is no sense of commonality, so they leave Iran to pick each country off. Something is missing here. The Iranians seem to be dividing and ruling.

“I decided to do this (campaign) two weeks ago. I am just an individual, and thought I might be a lone eagle, but it feels like a movement might be starting.”


UAE stops drone flying for owners, practitioners and enthusiasts: Interior Ministry

The UAE Ministry of Interior is currently stopping all flying operations for owners, practitioners and enthusiasts of drones, including drones and light sports aircrafts. (Shutterstock)
The UAE Ministry of Interior is currently stopping all flying operations for owners, practitioners and enthusiasts of drones, including drones and light sports aircrafts. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 January 2022

UAE stops drone flying for owners, practitioners and enthusiasts: Interior Ministry

The UAE Ministry of Interior is currently stopping all flying operations for owners, practitioners and enthusiasts of drones, including drones and light sports aircrafts. (Shutterstock)
  • Interior Ministry did not refer directly to Houthi attack in imposing the ban
  • Said the decision came after finding misuse of permits granted to those who practice drone sports

ABU DHABI: The UAE has grounded most private drones and light sports aircraft used for recreational purposes for a month starting Saturday, the Interior Ministry said, following a deadly attack this week by Yemen's Houthis.

While the Interior Ministry did not refer directly to the attack in imposing the ban, it said the decision came after finding misuse of permits granted to those who practice these sports.

"MOI (Ministry of Interior) is currently stopping all flying operations for owners, practitioners and enthusiasts of drones, including drones and light sports aircrafts," it said in a statement.

Exceptions might be granted by the permit authorities for businesses using drones for filming, the ministry said.

The UAE said the Iran-backed Houthi militia used cruise missiles and ballistic missiles alongside drones in the attack on Monday that killed three civilians.

The Houthi attack hit a fuel depot of state oil firm ADNOC in Musaffah and a construction site near Abu Dhabi airport, the UAE confirmed while adding it intercepted part of the attack.


Lebanon to start virtual talks with IMF next week

Lebanon to start virtual talks with IMF next week
Updated 22 January 2022

Lebanon to start virtual talks with IMF next week

Lebanon to start virtual talks with IMF next week
  • An IMF spokesperson also told Reuters on Saturday that a team will start virtual talks with Lebanese authorities next week
  • The Lebanese government has said it hopes to reach an initial agreement with the fund for financial support between January and February

BEIRUT: Lebanese officials will start talks with the International Monetary Fund on Monday, an official government source told Reuters.
An IMF spokesperson also told Reuters on Saturday that a team will start virtual talks with Lebanese authorities next week.
The Lebanese government has said it hopes to reach an initial agreement with the fund for financial support between January and February. Lebanon is in the grip of an unprecedented financial crisis and an IMF deal is widely seen as the only way for it to secure aid.
The fund said in December it was assessing a $69 billion figure announced by Lebanese officials for losses in the country's financial sector.
Disagreements in Lebanon over the size of the losses and how they should be distributed torpedoed IMF talks in 2020. The central bank, banks and political elite rejected figures set out in a government plan that was endorsed by the IMF at the time.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in September that the financial recovery plan to be drawn up by his cabinet will include a fair distribution of losses suffered by the financial system, but the cabinet hasn't convened since October.
It will convene again on Monday to discuss the 2022 budget, but no clear details have been released about the recovery plan.
The Lebanese financial system collapsed in 2019 because of decades of corruption and waste in the state and the unsustainable way it was financed. The trigger was slowing inflows of hard currency into the banking system, which lent heavily to the government.
Several reforms the IMF would likely seek, including cutting subsidies and unifying the numerous exchange rates in Lebanon's chaotic cash economy, are already becoming realities as hard currency dries up, political sources say.