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Armenians of Jordan: A community with duel identity
by Mike Derderian

The Star
May 2, 2003 Friday

JORDAN (Star) - The first question I am asked when a person knows I am Armenian is, "Aren't you a bit far from home? What made you Armenians immigrate in the first place?"

The presence of Armenians in the Arab world dates back to the 13th century. However, it wasn't until 1914, just before the WWI, at the time of the Armenian Genocide, leading to their mass immigration, that Armenian communities began to be formed in this part of the world.

Armenians came to Jordan, believe it or not, on foot "Walking all the way from their motherland through Turkey, under the scorching sun, children, women and the elderly made their way to the deserts of Syria and Jordan. Some were killed on the way, others perished either from exhaustion or butchered at the hands of heartless soldiers.

The ones who were lucky to survive this grueling journey were received and generously treated by Arabs. Al Sharif Hussein offered them protection and told his Arab subjects through a formal letter they should be treated well and their language and religion must be respected.

The letter still exists and is part of the many documents that Armenians are proud of, always reminding them of the humanistic role Arabs played in helping Armenians to survive.

Today, 24 April, Armenians are meeting at the Sorp Tatyos Church to commemorate the memory of those who died in 1914 for it is through their devotion and persistence the Armenian language and tradition survived. Armenian communities in various Arab countries are indebted to those who gave them homes and a new chance in life.

In search for a better life, some refugees decided to stay in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, formerly known as Belad Al Sham, others traveled to Europe and America.

Armenians in Jordan and through out the world were able to prove themselves skillful craftsmen in fields like photography, art, Jewelry, medicine, architecture, car mechanics and shoe-making.

The early Armenian refugees first resided in places like Ma'an, Karak, Shobak and Tafileh in 1915. Yet it wasn't until 1928 and 1930 when they began to move to Amman and live in what is known today as the Armenian quarter in Ashrafiyah today, it composes the Armenian Church, a school and two clubs.

But the first Armenian school was in Ruseifa in the early 1930s to teach the Armenian alphabet to children orphaned during WWI. In 1933 their own private school with a little chapel came to exist.

In 1960 the Armenian bishop of Jerusalem made generous contributions to build the current church called (Sorp Tatyos, meaning St Tatyos. The head of the Armenian Church is the Archbishop Vahan Topalian.

The school is called Yuzbeshian-Gyulbenkian consisting of an elementary school and a Kindergarten. The number of students is about 140 and admits children from KG up to the 6th grade after which students are transferred to other non-Armenian schools. The school teaches Armenian, English and Arabic.

Armenians also have two clubs in Al Ashrafiyah, Watani club and Homenetmen and are considered to be part and parcel of the Armenian life style.

The Homentmen club dates back to 1937. Edward Tchackmakian, president of the club said, "The club is a place for social gathering, offering and arranging different activities, most importantly we have a basketball team for all ages, and a large scouts movement of 92."

Aline Beneyan, a journalist at the Jordan Times, and head scouts leader in The Homentmen said, "We aim to make our children learn how to become good Jordanian citizens. "We have two identities which is something that makes us proud, however, it is also essential to give importance to our roots."

The Armenian Relief Society. was founded in 1949, as a charitable organization. Maral Derderian, president of the society said, "The society works under the supervision of the Union of Voluntary Societies in Amman. Their work revolves around helping the needy by giving them monthly salaries, we also help students who require money for school and college tuitions.+ACI-." The society's board consists and about 135 members and all work on voluntary basis.

The Watani Club has been in existence since 1946 and was registered in 1955 and its current place dates back to 1973. "The activities held at the club vary between cultural activities, sports, and drama for we have a stage that allows our members the chance to act, in addition to an Armenian folklore dance group that reflects the artistic and cultural aspects of Armenia," said Anto Lepegian, its president.

Varougan Sarkisian, 76, had a business in medical supplies and is now retired, said his father-in-law Isaac Korkian known as Isaac Saliba, was the first Armenian to be given Jordanian citizenship.

"I'm Jordanian, and I love Jordan. I'm also Armenian." He further added, "lately a monument was built in Armenia to commemorate how Arabs helped us during our time of hardship."

There are about 4,000 Armenians living in Jordan, the new generations of Armenians were born in Jordan and all consider themselves as Jordanian citizens of Armenian roots who have deep affinity to the Kingdom. So if you ask any Armenian born in Jordan, a question about his identity, he will proudly say "I'm a Jordanian."

Lecture at Haigazian University on Armenian Bedouins of Jordan

BEIRUT, LEBANON, 05/25/2000 (HAIGAZIAN U DEPT. OF ARMENIAN STUDIES) -- On Thursday May 25, (now officially declared as Liberation Day), the Haigazian University's Cultural Hour hosted Anna Ohanessian-Charpin, who lectured on "The Armenian Women of Maan (S.Jordan) as remembered by the Bedouins". Anna said:

"In 1986, while I was doing my anthropological field work in South Jordan, focusing on the bedouin tribes, I met Abu Gharib in his small restaurant, in the village of Wadi Musa next to Petra. The first thing he told me without knowing me was: "My mother was armenian (oummi kanat armaniyyeh)". His mother wasn't the only armenian in Wadi Musa. Armenians were, as he said, quiet numerous in this village as well as in Shobak and Ma'an.

My name Anna, surprised him. It was his mother's best friend's name. She lived in Ma'an. Once he knew that I was also Armenian, he was surprised in his turn, and after moving his head and very seriously he said "In arabic we say : the two third's of a child belongs to his maternal uncle (theltein al walad la khalou)". I then became his khal as he used to call me, the maternal uncle of a man who was my father's age and inspite of my being a woman.

I went to Ma'an searching for Anna. I found the Armenian Quarter (hay al Arman) easily on the outskirts of the town. But Anna and all the other Armenians were dead. I worked with the descendants of these Armenians, like Abu Gharib. They all considered me their khal and presented themselves to me as "Arman".

In this oasis arabo-bedouin town of Ma'an, on the edge of the badiya (desert) I wanted to understand what meant to these children and grand-children of Armenian women all this, why and how had they kept this memory.

Anna Ohanessian - Charpin traced the origin of these Armenian Bedouin women through different sources and their itenerary soon became quite clear. All the Armenian inhabitants of these southern Jordanian Bedouin Tribes came originally from the region of Chomakhlu (Ceasarea). In 1915, the women and the children were deported first to Aleppo, then to Damascus where they boarded the Hijaz Railway which carried pilgrims to Mecca and landed in one of the stations on the way: Maan. These women arrived, according to the locals, in terrible condition, barely dressed and sick. Some of them died, others survived and mixed with the local population. When the Meccan Sherif Hussein revolted agains the Ottomans in 1916 and occupied Maan, some of these Armenians were sent to Port Said (Egypt), Damascus, Jerusalem in 1918. Anna concludes this information from a cable sent from Boghos Nubar Pasha to the Sherif, thanking him for his intercession and assistance to the Armenians in Maan.

From around a total of 1000 women and children, some remained behind in Maan. Out of tehm, five women (with children from previous marriages) married sons from the Abu Darawish Tribe and became the mothers and the grandmothers of the local inhabitants. Their was Araksi, Haigouhi, Khanoum Gharibeh (stranger) and others. In the memory of their descendants and of the others in the town, each of these women was worth "ten men". They were strong, they received guests and visited people at Hotel Petra , the only Hotel in the area run by Diran Timaxian from Jerusalem. Dr. Der Nersessian from Athens traced them in 1958 and reunited some families by writing about them in "Arkeos". At one point Araxi went to New York to find her brothers. "She left in a madraga and returned in a fancy suit and hat" say her grandchildren. Abu Gharib says that his Armenian half-brother was moved to the Armenian convent in Jerusalem.

What does it mean for these Bedouins to be Armenians? They neither speak the language, nor practice the religion but they introduce themselves as "Arman". They all remember colored Easter eggs, horror stories from a far distant land and proudly acclaim that they are the descendants of exceptional Armenian women. Anna studies and analyzes these traits in order to see how all this is appropriated as a common memory and what is done out of it, in order for a new group to differentiate itself from the others, and specially from the rest of the Abu Darawish. --- Anna Ohanessian-Charpin is born and raised in Beirut. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate in Paris working on the Bedouins of South Jordan. She can be reached at <philnoga @>.

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Jordanian Armenians commemorate the Genocide

Azad-Hye, Dubai, 27 April 2006: The Armenians of Amman marked on 24th April the 91st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The commemoration was initiated by the National Council of Armenians in Jordan and organized by the Prelacy (based in the capital Amman), in association with all Armenian organizations.

Raquel Markarian welcomed the attendants and invited them to a moment of silence in memory of our martyrs. In her speech she pointed out to the importance of remembering our victims, expressing confidence that one day justice will prevail.

Masis Guloyan addressed the public in Arabic language, noting that the Armenians know how to respect their martyrs. He said that our forefather sacrificed their life and did not compromise their values. He also expressed gratitude towards the Kingdom of Jordan for sheltering the Armenians during the Genocide and for providing means for future prosperity and development. Armenians now are integral part of the Jordanian society and have equal rights.

Suzy Sanjian, Lousin Koulaksezian, Narineh Demirdjian and Alice Babigian successively performed and recited songs and poems of known writers such as Kevork Emin, Vahan Tekeyan and others.

The H.M.E.M. choir performed a series of patriotic songs such as "The Adana Massacres", "The Exile Song", "Sons of Armenians". Well-known photographer Zohrab presented a series of pictures taken by him during his recent visits to Armenia and Artsakh (Karabakh). He also conveyed to the public his impressions on the above journeys.

The main speaker was Dr. Nora Arissian, specially invited from Damascus, specialist in Genocide documentation. She introduced the recent developments in the Genocidal studies, underlining the importance of different national and private archives.

Arissian encouraged the youth to support Hay Tad efforts by collecting archival material. Referring to the significance of the Arabic archives in Genocide research, she quoted some of the memoirs of Arab intellectuals who described the Armenian Genocide.

Arissian gave details about the new horizons opening in front of Hay Tad (the Armenian cause), in which young people can have greater role.

She concluded her lecture by emphasizing that "our wealth is in our memory. The opponent today is weak and shameful in front of the humanity and we are stronger with our will, awareness and the knowledge of our heritage".

The choir of Saint Thaddeus Church under the leadership of Sevag Chekerkian presented a group of religious chants.

At the end of the commemoration Nerses Nersesian expressed the hope that more and more countries would acknowledge the Genocide and humanity would unite in preventing future human calamities.


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