CYPRIOT ARMENIANS: INTERVIEW WITH HAGOP DIKRANIAN, HUNCHACK PARTY CHAIRMAN IN CYPRUS
Azad Hye, United Arab Emirates Jan 17 2006
Azad-Hye, Dubai, 18 January 2006: Hunchak Party is namely one of the three Armenian traditional parties that survived in Diaspora for many decades before being able to return back to the motherland, after the 1991 Independence. Hunchak Party is one of the oldest political parties operating in the Middle East. Azad-Hye had the chance to conduct a meeting in Nicosia with Hagop Dikranian, the Chairman of the newly formed branch in Cyprus. Below is the text of the meeting:
1- Could you describe the present situation of the Cypriot Armenian Community?
The Cypriot Armenian Community is one of the oldest Diaspora Armenian communities. Armenians have settled in Cyprus since long time ago.
During the period of the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia (9-13th centuries A.D., known also as Lesser Armenia), the Armenians established close relationship with their neighbors in Cyprus, just across the Mediterranean coast of Cilicia.
The number of Armenians in Cyprus is now estimated at 3.000, concentrated mainly in the capital Nicosia and in another two cities (Limasol and Larnaca). There are Armenian churches in each of these three cities. The Prelacy of Cyprus is under the jurisdiction of the Catholicosate of Cilicia (based nowadays in Antelias, Beirut, Lebanon). Armenian daily schools (under the name "Narek") function in the above three cities, enjoying the support and assistance of the Government of Cyprus.
Although the Community is small in numbers, nevertheless it is considered to be a very active one. Armenian traditional political parties, cultural and sports unions, etc. run their usual activities.
There are Armenian clubs in the major cities. There are two monthly publications: "Artsakank" (Echo) and "Azad Tsayn" (Free Voice). The Prelacy publishes "Keghart" information bulletin. The well known Armenian program is aired on Cyprus Radio daily for a limited time.
2- We would like to know about the difficulties that Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI) has faced until its recent closure. After months of the misfortunate decision how is the situation assessed now?
Unfortunately, despite the pan-Armenian outcry, the AGBU's (Armenian General Benevolent Union) leadership proceeded in executing its treacherous decision resulting in the closure of this historical institute of education and science. This year, for the first time the school bell of the MEI did not ring. No students were accepted to the empty classrooms. As a consequence not only the Cypriot Armenians, but also Armenians from many other Communities in Diaspora were deprived from this vital source of light and knowledge. The Institute served young Armenian generations from abroad who were staying in the boarding school.
Our Community is facing more troubles now. The wave of assimilation is threatening in a direct way, especially now that the parents are obliged to send their children to foreign schools where no Armenian secondary education is provided. Even the Cypriot circles have expressed their concern and anxiety on the same issue. The Parliament of Cyprus described the step taken by AGBU as an "act of hostility".
Moreover, the Government suggested financial assistance for the survival of MEI.
While the Central Administration of AGBU and its closer circles appeared in the controversial position of staging the closure of an Armenian school, the Melkonian Alumni Associations worldwide launched intense struggle to save their beloved school. The situation was complicated when the other guarantor of the MEI, the Patriarchate of the Armenians of Constantinople (Istanbul) took legal and judicial steps against the danger of closure. This process commenced in California and now is transferred into the Cypriot Court, where it waits for proper verdict. Meanwhile the school remains closed and the property unused. Two historical Armenian bodies (AGBU and Patriarchate of Armenians of Constantinople) are now facing each other, waiting for the judgment of the Court, anxious to see if the school will remain closed or reopen. This is a shameful and outrageous situation.
It is worth mentioning here that the Hunchak party, in Cyprus and abroad has expressed its clear position on this subject, opposing this damaging policy of AGBU. The 18th Congress of the Party, which was held recently in Cyprus, condemned the decision to close the doors of Melkonian in front of the students, considering it an assault against our people, history and heritage. We consider the silence and indifference of our both Catholicosates regarding this topic, a matter of condemnation, especially while celebrating the 1600th anniversary of the Armenian Alphabet and the 90th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (both marked nation-wide just months ago).
3- It is an opportunity to know more about the presence and activities of the Social Democrat Hunchak Party in the Middle East.
Also it would be interesting to know more about the Party's 18th Congress, which was held in Cyprus.
As a historical and well-rooted structure, the Social Democrat Hunchak Party actively functions in many locations where noticeable Armenian population exists. The Party, along with its parallel organizations, such as Armenian Athletic Organization (H.M.M.) and "Nor Serount (New Generation) Cultural Union", enjoys substantial presence in major Armenian Communities in the Middle East (from Lebanon to Damascus and Aleppo, from Egypt to Kuwait). In Lebanon we have a Member of Parliament, a weekly newspaper ("Ararad"), an educational network, dynamic athletic and cultural life, many followers at school or university levels. In Aleppo also we have similar units. The Dance Ensemble of the "Nor Seround Cultural Union" and the Instrumental Music Band there are popular.
The Hunchak Party in Damascus has its decisive role in the religious and national life of the Community. During recent elections it achieved victory in local elections, securing the installment of a sympathetic personality in the position of the Head of the Church.
The "Meghri" Dancing Ensemble in Damascus also is flourishing. In Egypt we have club and press ("Tchahagir"). Quite recently H.M.M. of Kuwait is experiencing a flare of activity.
In 2005 the Cyprus Hunchak Unit was set up, reviving the traditions of the "Nor Seround Cultural Union" and the "Armenian Athletic Union / H.M.M.". Indeed, this could be considered as the newest event in the Cypriot Armenian Community.
There are many Hunchak followers in other countries, where organizational structure unfortunately does not exist.
The 18th Congress of the Hunchak Party, which was recently convened in the coastal city of Larnaca (Cyprus), could be considered as crucial and significant. The Congress discussed almost all aspects that concern the Armenian public life, having on the agenda all national priorities: Armenian-Turkish relations, Javakhk issue (in present day Georgia), Karabagh crisis, democratization process and the overall political situation in Armenia, the ecclesiastical crisis, relations with other organizations, economic subjects, administrative issues, ideological aspects, cultural concerns, etc., just to name the basic ones. The delegates taking part in the Congress elected the new leadership, which could be characterized as young, motivated and mobilized. Without a doubt, new horizons have opened in front of the Party.
The Party greeted the Government of Cyprus for the granted hospitality and expressed its support to a just and integrated solution of the Cypriot Issue, against the Turkish illegal occupation.
4- How can we characterize the attitude of the Republic of Cyprus towards the Armenians?
It is best characterized as caring and noble. The Armenian Community is one of three officially recognized minorities in the country (besides the Maronites and the Latins), having thus the complete right to preserve its language and culture. The Cypriot Armenians feels in this country as a free, complete and integrated citizens, with the same obligations and rights as other citizens. Within the House of the Representatives of Cyprus, the Armenian Community elects, in a democratic way, a Representative for a five years term.
The Government provides great help to the three Armenian elementary schools, supports the Church and encourages cultural and athletic activities. In fact the Government is concerned in preserving the national character of the Armenian Community. For example, in the case of the Melkonian Educational Institute, the Government and the people of Cyprus sided explicitly against the closure decision, considering it as an act against the national and cultural values of the whole Cypriot society. The Government is consistently supporting the teaching of Armenian language in the Armenian schools, offering financial backup if needed.
"Armenia-Cyprus Friendship Committee" enhances the friendship and cultural interaction between the two nations, creating more opportunities for mutual acknowledgment and appreciation, especially that the Armenian-Greek relationship has historical roots and many correlations. Cyprus also suffers from the same enemy, who occupied parts of the country in 1974. There are similarities in the history of the two nations. Summarizing, we can conclude that Cyprus is a civilized, democratic and pro-Armenian state, where all resources are available in front of the Armenian Community to continue its existence, to prosper in all domains and to feel proud and confidence as trustworthy citizens.
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