03 June 2006

759) Armenian Diaspora in Lebanon

The largest portion of the Armenians who served for the British and French armed forces at Maras, Urfa and Antep moved to Syria and Lebanon as the French evacuated Cilicia in accordance with the Ankara Agreement of 20 October 1920. As a result, the attempt for creating an independent Armenia in Cilicia, under the auspices of France, ended up with failure. With the San Remo Conference of 24 April 1920, Lebanon, where the Ottomans had governed for 400 years until the First World War, was handed over to the French.

The Armenians who came to Lebanon from Anatolia were given Lebanese citizenship on 31 August 1924. However, the Peace Treaty of Lausanne also recognized, by its article 31, that the former Ottoman nationals who became citizens of newly established states on the former Ottoman territories may return to Turkey as equal Turkish citizens within two years. This article gave the Armenians an opportunity to return to their homes. Those who had not gone back by 25 July 1925 lost their right to claim Turkish citizenship.

The Anatolian Armenians of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, established their own neighborhoods, schools, churches, social and political associations. They aimed at playing a considerable role in the Lebanese political life. They founded Bourj Hammond, a suburb situated at North East of Beirut. The Armenians who settled in the sandjak (province) of Iskenderun moved to Lebanon in 1939 when �skenderun was handed over to Turkey by the French. There used to be 170,000 Armenians living in Lebanon before the civil war. Many immigrated to the other parts of the world. The total number of the Armenians in Lebanon today is 116,214 of whom 88,601 Gregorian, 20,259 Roman Catholic and 7,354 Protestants. Currently there are six Armenian members of the Lebanese Parliament, all are Gregorians.

Three Armenian political parties exist in Lebanon: the Dashnaks, Hunchanks and Ramkavars. The first Armenian political institution in Lebanon was a branch of the Dashnak Party set up in 1901 by the students of the American University in Lebanon. The main aim of the Dashnaks is to create an independent Greater Armenia by uniting the present Armenia with the territories to be separated from Turkey. The Hunchaks share this goal of a Greater Armenia. The Ramkavar Party is concerned with the conservation of the Armenian identity. During the years between 1973-1986 the Armenian terrorist organizations, namely the ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia), ASALA-RM (ASALA-Revolutionary Movement) and JCAG (Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide) carried out activities against mainly the Turkish diplomats and other Turkish targets. It is known that the JCAG is closely connected with the Dashnak Party. The ASALA competed with the Dashnaks for the leadership of the Armenians, resulting in casualties in both sides.

The Gregorian Cilicia Catholicos, the Patriarch of the Catholic Armenian Church and the Chairman of the Union of Armenian Protestant Churches in the Middle East reside in Beirut. The majority of the Lebanese Armenians are Gregorian. Although the Gregorian (Apostolic) Church is located in Antilias, Beirut since 1929, it is called by its middle age name ‘the Cilician Church’. It has religious jurisdiction over an area extending from Greece to Iran and even from Northern America to Kuwait. The Antilias Church cooperated with the Dashnaks and became powerful in comparison with the Echmiadzin Church which is under control by the Hunchak and Ramkavar parties. The Antilias Church aims at making Lebanon religious and political center for the Armenians, an aim of which anti-Turkish elements constitute an important part.

Erdal Ilter*
* -
- Armenian Studies, Issue 3, September-October-November 2001


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