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. 


One killed in renewed anti-coup protests in Sudan

One killed in renewed anti-coup protests in Sudan
Updated 7 sec ago

One killed in renewed anti-coup protests in Sudan

One killed in renewed anti-coup protests in Sudan
KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces killed one protester on Saturday during renewed demonstrations against a military takeover that derailed a transition to civilian rule last year, medics said.
The victim, who was not identified, died as a result of “a bullet to the chest” in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, the pro-democracy Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said in a statement.
The latest death brings to 96 the toll from a crackdown on anti-coup protests which have taken place regularly since the October 25 military putsch led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the committee said.
Saturday’s protests came after thousands took to the streets Thursday to oppose the power grab, mainly in Khartoum but also elsewhere, renewing demands for civilian rule.
About 100 people were injured during Thursday’s demonstrations, according to the doctors’ committee.
At the same time two leading anti-coup figures from Sudan’s Communist Party were arrested. They were released on Friday.
The United Nations, along with the African Union and regional bloc IGAD, have been pushing to facilitate Sudanese-led talks to resolve the crisis after the latest coup in the northeast African country, one of the world’s poorest.
But civilian forces have refused to enter negotiations involving the military, while Burhan has repeatedly threatened to expel UN envoy Volker Perthes, accusing him of “interference” in the country’s affairs.
In late March Perthes said Sudan was heading toward “an economic and security collapse” unless its civilian-led transition was restored.

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report
Updated 21 May 2022

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

DUBAI: Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior has seized an Iranian ship carrying 240 tons of smuggled diesel, a report by Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV said Saturday. 

The ministry said it has seized the ship in territorial waters and has arrested its crew members, who were Iranian. 

It said the Iranian ship crew were buying fuel from smaller ships at certain prices. 

The ministry also said an investigation is underway to reveal all the circumstances of the smuggling incident. 


Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes – health ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes – health ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
  • Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces early Saturday during a raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
“A 17-year-old boy was killed, and an 18-year-old was critically wounded by the Israeli occupation’s bullets during its aggression on Jenin,” a statement by the health ministry said.
Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed.
Thirteen Palestinians were injured last week during an operation by Israeli forces in the camp in which one Israeli commando and one Palestinian were also killed.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett named the Israeli commando as Noam Raz.
The Palestinian was later named as Daoud Al-Zubaidi, a brother of Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, who headed the armed wing of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and briefly escaped from Israeli prison last year.
The raids came hours before violence erupted at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed last week while covering another Israeli raid on the camp.
As her funeral unfolded, Israeli police stormed the grounds of a Jerusalem hospital as the body of the slain journalist was being transported for burial, prompting an international outcry.

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Israeli missile strikes kill 3 near Syria capital: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Israeli missile strikes kill 3 near Syria capital: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
  • Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah

DAMASCUS: Israeli surface-to-surface missiles killed three people near the Syrian capital Damascus on Friday, state media said quoting a military source.
“The Israeli enemy carried out an aggression... that led to the death of three martyrs and some material losses,” Syria’s official news agency SANA quoted the source as saying.
The missiles came from the Israeli-occupied Golan heights and were intercepted by the Syrian air defenses, the military source said.
AFP correspondents in the Syrian capital said they heard very loud noises in the evening.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that the three people killed were officers and that four other members of the air defense crew were wounded.
The Israeli strikes targeted Iranian positions and weapon depots near Damascus, the monitor said.
A fire broke at one of the positions near the Damascus airport, where ambulances were seen rushing to the site of the strikes, according to the Observatory.
The latest strike follows one on May 13 that killed five people in central Syria, and another one near Damascus on April 27 which, according to the Observatory, killed 10 combatants, among them six Syrian soldiers, in the deadliest such raid since the start of 2022.
Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government troops as well as allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of them.
The Israeli military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.


Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties
Updated 21 May 2022

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties
  • On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic"
  • Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue"

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a “new republic”, through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.
On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, sidelining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
He has since vowed to scrap the country’s 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to referendum in July, but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.
On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created “National Consultative Commission for a New Republic”, charged with drawing up a draft constitution.
Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary and on national dialogue.
While major organisations including the powerful UGTT trade union confederation are supposed to be involved, no political party is set to take part.
Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited “national dialogue” – at the same time attacking the political parties he accuses of having plundered the country.
Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country’s major actors.