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French Version

Armenians to mark 'the Great Slaughter' with low-key events

History, Memory, identity to be marked on Sunday

Armenians across Lebanon will attend special church services and other commemorative events Sunday to mark Mets Eghern - the Great Slaughter.

This year is the 90th anniversary of the arrest of close to 200 Armenian community leaders - an event Armenians say was the beginning of an organized campaign to drive their people out of the region and left more than one million dead.

In Armenia, a weeklong series of events will be capped off with a massive march, which organizers say will draw thousands of diaspora Armenians.

In Lebanon, however, due to the current political climate, Armenian community leaders have opted for low-key events to mark the anniversary and no major demonstrations.

Instead, Armenians will honor the anniversary by thinking about their links to the land of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents - and the lives they have made for themselves in their new homelands.

"If someone asks me if I am Armenian or Lebanese, I say to them, 'Are you Arab or are you Lebanese?' They are both, just as I am both Armenian and Lebanese. I see no problem with that," says Ari, whose grandparents were among tens of thousands of Armenians who came to Lebanon in the early 1920s.

He adds: "Like in the United States, people are all of many different origins, but are all the same nationality."

Houry Jerejian, chairperson of the Lebanon-based Armenian Educational Benevolent Union (AEBU), says: "We, as a community of diaspora, want to keep Armenians Armenian."

Ari, who declined to give his family name, says he gave his child an Armenian name - adding if he has another, he or she will also be given an Armenian name.

According to Ari, "the issue isn't about being narrow minded, it's about safeguarding one's identity."

AEBU supports efforts to provide education for underprivileged children and low-cost health-care services for the community at large.

However, the community does a lot of work to support not only one another here in Lebanon, but those back in Armenia as well.

"We do a lot of work, especially after the earthquake (in Armenia in 1995)," says Jerejian. "Among the many projects we helped to build a factory that makes artificial limbs."

There are an estimated five million to six million Armenians living abroad - compared to the close to three million living in Armenia.

The Armenian diaspora has funded such projects as the construction of a new airport, the revival of cultural institutions such as museums and an orchestra and opened factories to create jobs.

Many in the community also make frequent trips back to Armenia, including Ari who says he has helped in economic development projects back in the land of his grandparents - but he says he is unsure if he would move back there permanently.

"It depends on the circumstances," he says. "I can't say that I will definitely go back, but I can't say that I will definitely stay. Everybody has to decide for themselves."

Armenians maintain that up to 1.5 million of their people were massacred between 1915 and 1917, an atrocity commonly known as the Armenian Genocide.

At the time, the Ottoman Empire - Turkey's predecessor - was heading toward collapse as the World War I was raging.

Turkey maintains no such genocide took place, admitting there were massacres but saying they occurred on both sides during a bloody war.

Most countries and international humanitarian organizations have recognized the Armenian genocide - including Lebanon.

Beirut 25-04-2005
James Fitz-Morris
The Daily Star

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