Disclaimer: “Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia.” William Saroyan
I am sharing with you a blogpost that I wrote last year to commemorate the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Have a good read.
Today we mourn the death of 1.5 million Armenians, 950,000 Greeks and 750,000 Assyrians under the directives of the Ottoman Empire rulers. This extermination policy led Armenians to flee (warned by their Kurdish neighbors) to neighboring countries in what is known as the death march. Many settled in Der el-Zor (Syria) and more reached the coastal city of Beirut (Lebanon).
Today I wanted to share with you all a glimpse of the safe haven Armenians built in Beirut city known as Little Armenia to some and Bourj Hammoud to most of you. This neighborhood, built out of a swamp, turned into an industrial and residential area for Armenians and other ethnic minorities over the years.
This past month I have visited Bourj Hammoud more than I have in the two decades I have lived in Lebanon. Many errands kept me going back and forth but it is mostly the genuine, cozy interaction with its residents, the real-feel of intimacy from its narrow streets and that old/vintage vibe that kept me going up to more than three times a week.
The infrastructure of Bourj Hammoud is an interesting one. Unlike its neighboring district, houses are built three/four stories high and the buildings stack up one next to the other each being polished its own unique way. The survivors of the first genocide of the 20th century did not despair about their fate. They took matters into their own hand and started building their future in this welcoming unknown territory. Most of them got employed just so to put aside some money in order to feed their families and eventually open their own businesses.
When strolling through the streets of B.Hammoud you will instantly notice that Armenians are handymen i-e they excel in the craft of art. They are known to be famous jewelers hence the stretch of jewelry shops on its main road. Furthermore when you enter the streets parallel to the famous Arax street, you will come to notice small shops selling dried food, spices and unimaginable artifacts (sometimes all sold under one roof).
The streets are narrow and permit one car to pass through (very slowly). Pedestrians walk in the middle of the road as well as on the pavement when permitted since most items from shops overflow onto the pavement. Although it is a busy street, you do not feel overwhelmed. People are lively, interactive and very much happy. If you have not heard Armenian before, be prepared to be drawn by its hubbub. Clothing shops tend to compete with each other and if you look closely you will notice that most of them sell to an extend the same products. I don’t know what you have heard but it is not easy to bargain with an Armenian. But you will most probably have heard before (and many times) that they are the most honest businessmen and their work speaks for itself.
How many of you have gone out of your way to buy in bulk from an Armenian vendor in Bourj Hammoud?
How many of you go first to an Armenian jeweler for an honest opinion about the price of a stone?
How many of you fashion designers have settled a deal with an Armenian clothing manufacturer to produce your collection pieces?
and again I’m going to ask you
How many of you swear by the work of Sako, Ara and Garo?
There you got it.
We might have been persecuted a century ago. We might have fled our home country. We might have spread worldwide. But we maintained our integrity, our faith and our trust in God that no matter where and no matter the circumstances we are going to remain and fight against all odds thrown our way.
I encourage you to visit Bourj Hammoud, take unique pictures, mingle with its residents and have a bite of some delicious Armenian food.
Trust me, the experience is one of a kind.
(An experience that I miss so much- my weekly saturday strolls after my session of painting with m. Torossian, whom I miss and cant wait to see again soon).