Armenian online news outlets from Lebanon reported the good news that, all the three Armenian Political Parties have agreed on joint lists during the municipal elections in Lebanon. I lived in Beirut from 1949 till 1959 when the hostilities between these three parties were at their peak, and the election was fiercely contested.
At the time I was an ARF Junior Youth “Պատանեկան միութիւն” member at Azadamard Agoomp (Club) in Ashrafieh district. Ungair Raffi Berberian was the director ” varich”. He was a tall person with a serious and no-nonsense look. He was also the librarian of the one-room library in the “agoomp” and was considered to be a literary “qrots prots” person.
One year, the Junior ARF Youth Day “Պատանեկանի օր” celebration was held in our “agoomp” with the participation of all the branches in Lebanon. A young and very popular poet and intellectual, Antranig Dzarougian was the guest speaker. As the “Varich” of the host chapter, ungair Raffi worked very hard to make it a successful event.
When the celebration started, Unger Raffi was standing at the back of the packed hall. Asmar Kris and me, as assistant members of the organizing committee, were standing next to him. (Asmar means dark complexion in Turkish or Arabic language, and Kris was the abbreviation of Krisdapor the name of one of the founders of the ARF organization).
During Antranig Dzarougian’s speech, ungair Raffi was beaming with joy and kept murmuring and repeating “Vay pairant seeraim, vay perant seeraim”. (In loose translation “I adore what you are saying”). From that day on, Asmar Kris and I, between ourselves, nicknamed ungair Raffi “Vay peran”.
Needless to say, Antranig Dzarougian electrified the audience with his speech and ended it with a challenge to all the young members that, at the next year’s celebration he will come again, and would like to see the ranks of the members at least doubled, if not tripled, and challenged each member to recruit one or two new members. “Vay peran” looked at Kris and me and said “hasgtsak?” (did you understand?). It sounded like an order.
During that time Ashrafieh was under the control of the ARF and there were no rival Hunchag and Ramgavar clubs in the district. But there was a divisive campaign among ARF members. It was between the old establishment (հինգաֆաներ) and younger and so-called “Umpost”(rebellious) members. Ungair Raffi was part of the old establishment and was replaced by a younger and dynamic Varich, named Tsolag.
Tsolag although an assertive person was less authoritative than Raffi and more interactive with the members, and better liked. Unlike Raffi’s authoritative lectures which were like orders to be obeyed, Tsolag’ lectures were more like a dialogue and we felt more at ease with him.
Soon the “umpost” ARF members were expelled from Azadamard, and they opened their own agoomp opposite the Krikorian Hospital in the same neighborhood. It was named “Jagadamard”. It was financed and headed by Suren Azirian the son of a wealthy Armenian philanthropist, Misak Agha Azirian.
Tsolag was part of the leadership of the splinter group and was expelled as well. A new Varich was appointed named Onnig Marashlian that was no match to “Vay peran” or Tsolag. Needless to say, we were instructed in no uncertain terms, to stay away from Jagadamard agoomp, and forbidden to have any contact with their members, especially with Tsolag.
With Asmar Kris we decided to challenge the rule and went to see Tsolag at Jagadamard. We were welcomed and praised for our “bravery” and for not being “kharoofs” (sheep) that in Arabic implies means weakling, or subservient. (Kharoof was a word often used by splinter group members to disparage the traditionalist ARF members). We were offered soft drinks played ping pong and left with a good feeling about our “brave” deed, and started rehearsing our arguments for a disciplinary hearing that we knew was coming.
The next day we were called to a meeting at the ARF Executive “Gomidai” office. Present were Ungair Suren Antoian, the new president “Հերթապահ” of the Gomidai, Ungair Raffi (Vay peran) as the new secretary of Gomidai, and ungair Onnig Marashlian, the new Varich.
Ungair Antoian was a mild-mannered, short person, with a low pitched voice and always impeccably dressed and well-groomed. He was more part of the leadership of Soorp Hagop Church and School than ARF. Up till that time we had no interaction with him in the agoomp. Our fear was facing the “Vay peran” rather than Suren, or Onnig. We considered Suren and Onnig as “lightweight”, especially compared with Raffi and Tsolak.
We presented our arguments rather assertively, and all the time spoke in the plural term “we” as if we were speaking not only on our behalf but also on behalf of all the junior members. (At the time both Kris and I were also members of the executive “Varchagan” of the Junior ARF).
They listen patiently and that encouraged us to go on and on. “Vay peran”, although silent, but his “how dare you” look was a bit intimidating. At one point he could not tolerate it and interrupted and angrily said “al guh pave chek amchnar”, (Enough shame on you) but Suren cut him short and said, “tsqe togh khosin”(let them talk) in a very assertive tone. We were sort of pleased to see “Vay peran” put in his place, so to speak, and continued our “bravado”.
Soon we got tired of our lengthy rhetoric and ended the talk. Suren mildly asked “verchatsak?”, (finished?), Kris and I looked at each other and hesitantly said yes, and got the shock of our lifetime when Ungair Antoian very authoritatively said.
“Look here, your talk of we are nonsense. No other member violated the rule and visited the illegal club. You are the only two members who have defied the order and if you go back again, or meet with Tsolak, you will be reduced to two useless street kids “anbedk poghotsayinner” not worthy to be a member of this great organization and better do not come back” and repeated “do you understand, do not come back”, and added, “now go do your duty at the library”.
We were shell-shocked, to say the least, and headed to the one-room library. (At the time both of us were assistant librarians to ungair Raffi the”Vay peran” who, as I said earlier, was the official librarian).
Needless to say from that moment on, this unassuming, neatly dressed “shorty”, that we considered to be a “light weight”, suddenly turned into a giant of a man, much “taller” than Vay peran so to speak, and without lecturing us, and in a short statement, he taught us a BIG lesson that never to underestimate people by their appearances. Աստուած բոլորին հոգին լուսաւորէ.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian