In my previous blog, I wrote about the Azadamard Agoomp in the Ashrafieh district of Beirut Lebanon. I lived in Beirut from my late forties to my late fifties and have many good nostalgic memories. At the time Beirut was probably one of the most, if not the most active Armenian community in the whole Armenian Diaspora.
The most densely populated Armenian district was Bourj Hamoud where Armenians were the vast majority, and most of the businesses especially the retail businesses were owned by Armenians. Bourj Hamoud was considered to be the “poorer” section, the “ghetto”, of the Armenian community. It had some of its sections named after the cities from where the Armenians were forcibly removed by Turks during the Armenian Genocide. City names like, Marash, Sis, Adana, Hajin, Amanos, etc.
The Armenian population of Bourj Hamoud not only kept their old culture and lifestyle but also continued to communicate with each other in the Turkish language as well. They often used the word “aga” ակա, as “my friend” and for that, they sometimes were called “ակաները”. All the three rival Armenian Political Parties had their “Agoomps” (clubs) and schools in Bourj Hamoud, and the rivalry “Կուսակցական պայքար” was very tense.
A small part of the Ashrafieh district was populated with Armenians mainly in the neighborhood of Azadamard lagoon, Saint Hagop church/school, Catholic Patriarchate, Gainats High School, etc. Ashrafieh was considered to be the”middle class” area.
Another part of the much larger Beirut district populated by Armenians around Saint Nshan Cathedral, Jemaran, Evangelical High School, etc. was considered to be the “rich and affluent” area. Since these two districts were not densely populated by Armenians, the rivalry between the Political Parties although tense, was less “visible”.
(Today unfortunately due to the out-migration especially after the civil war in the seventies, Ashrafieh and Beirut districts are almost emptied of their Armenian population, and Bourj Hamoud is struggling to keep its Armenian majority and the Armenian identity).
Since arriving from Kessab Syria we lived in the Ashrafieh district. Soon after I “graduated” from Junior ARF to become a full member of the ARF Azadamard chapter, we moved to Hazmieh, a rural area just outside of the Beirut district. As per ARF regulations, I was transferred to ARF Krisdapor Gomidai in the Beirut district which was closer to Hazmieh, and thus the friendships and the social bonds that I had developed in the previous years in the Ashrafieh district almost came to an end.
Unlike Azadamard Agoomp the Krisdapor gomidai was located on the first floor of a none descriptive residential building without any proper identification and was called “joghovrtayin doon” Ժողովրդային տուն (people house). Here is an anecdote that my younger sister Yester tells about the nature of the Ժողովրդային տուն.
After living in Canada for a long period of time, Yester pays a visit to Beirut and goes to see the Ժողովրդային տուն. She could not identify it, and in her broken Arabic language, asks a passerby lady if she knows where the “qlab Armani” was. My niece Tamar, who was with Yester and fluent in the Arabic language, starts to laugh out loud and tells Yester that, she just had asked the lady if she knew where the “Armenian dogs were”. Yester had mispronounced the Club as qlab “գլապ” which in the Arabic language means dogs.
My active membership with Krisdapor Gomidai was a rather short one and did not go beyond the attending the meetings ժողով. Soon I was off to go work in Ghana Africa, from where I came to Toronto in 1965 and resume again my active membership with ARF Soghomon Tehlirian Gomidai in Toronto.
Before closing this “chapter” on Beirut and especially on Ashrafieh and Azadamard agoomp, let me tell a story that I remember rather well. It was a debate “Վիճաբանական ասուլիս” between two ARF Junior Պատանեկան միութիւն chapters, that of Azadamard of Asrafieh, and Khanasor from Bourj Hamoud. The debate was about the”Dadraqomi harsuh” (The bride of Dadroaqom) Տատրագոմի հարսը, a novel by a very talented Armenian intellectual, poet, and novelist, Gostan Zarian.
It is the story of an Armenian freedom fighter “Ֆետայի” who leaves his young bride alone in the village of Dadraqom and goes to fight against the Turks and Kurds who were invading and pillaging the Armenian villages. For many years the ֆետայի never comes back or inquires about his young wife. A Kurdish young man falls in love with the young bride, and kidnaps and marries her. When the ֆետայի husband hears the news, he immediately goes back to the Kurdish village and kills both.
I do not know whose “bright” idea it was to choose such a novel to be debated by young boys in their late teens. The debate took place in our Azadamard agoomp and was chaired by Sarkis Pakhtikian a member from another ARF Gomidai from the nearby Haygashen district.
Two representatives from the Khanassor chapter who had the easy task to defend the ֆետայի spoke first. They eloquently defended the hero, the self-sacrificing ֆետայի, and got big applause. It was hard to disagree with them. Even ungair Pakhtikian the supposedly “impartial” third party chair of the debate clapped and said, “պրաւօ ձեզի” (bravo to you) rather in a loud voice that everyone could hear.
The difficult job to defend the young bride on behalf of Azadamard chapter was Harut Varjabedian and me. Harut was a student at the Jemaran which was considered to be the most prestigious Armenian High School run by ARF. Harut was also the chair “Ատենապետ” of the Azadamard ARF juniors. Harut was a pretentious guy and spoke and acted as a cultured “գրոց բրոց”person and was nicknamed “մտաւորական” (intellectual).
Our “coach” for the debate was Nazaret Patanian, a very opinionated and none conformist type of person a few years older than us. He was a graduate of the Jemaran and a law student at the university. Needless to say at the time attending University was considered to be a rare privilege, and exceptional achievement, and Nazaret pretended and acted, like such a privileged young man.
Nazaret “coached” us to act like “lawyers” in a courtroom. Harut was “coached” to defend the poor, “խեղճ” and abandoned “լքուած” young bride and I was “coached” to blame the villagers who did not protect and took care of the young bride. Both of us were instructed not to condemn or disparage the ֆետայի. Although my task was easier compared to Harut’, but, as a young boy who grew up in a beautiful village called Kessab in Syria, I must say that I was not feeling too comfortable with my task to blame the villagers.
Fortunately, it was Harut to speak first. True to his nickname “մտաւորական” (intellectual) and now pretending to act like a real “lawyer”, and before even starting to read the written text, he eloquently, and with a borderline “arrogance” challenged the rhetoric of the opponents based on emotions and said something like “now I will start to defend the innocent and young bride who happens to be a young woman and she had emotions and passions (Ը)զգացումներ եւ կիրքեր ունէր.
Harut had hardly finished saying the word “կիրքեր ունէր”, Ungair Pakhdikian like a fighting bull seeing a red flag, stood up, banged his hand on the table, and with a look like “how dare you” said, “Այս նիւթը յարմար չէ պատանիներուն համար եւ այս հաւաքոյթը վերջացած է” (This subject is not appropriate for young people and this meeting is over).
Harut looked defiant and proud. The one who most appreciated what he said was our “coach” Nazaret Patanian. He taped on Harut’s shoulder and said “bravo” in a rather loud voice that everyone could hear, especially, ungair Pakhtigian. (Ungair Sarkis Pakhtigan, later on, became a celibate priest and a Bishop in Antelias Lebanon). Աստուած բոլորին հոգին լուսաւորէ.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian