Lebanese-Armenian Subculture: A Heritage of Resilience
A Heritage of Resilience
The Lebanese-Armenian Subculture
One cannot but admire the resilience and tenacity of the Armenian Community in Lebanon in preserving their identity while thriving to adapt, adopt, and succeed. Citizens of Lebanon, they take pride in having preserved their own culture while adopting the Lebanese one, and blending in.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome to my blog our Lebanese Armenian community, and introduce it to my readers around the world.
The Armenians of Lebanon
Culturally and historically, Lebanon was always open to foreigners; a legacy of the Phoenician forefathers. When Armenia became a Christian nation in 301 A.D, pilgrimage to the Holy Land conveyed them through Lebanon where some settled in on their way back. More remained in Palestine where they took roots.
It is but in the early 20th century that a significance presence of Armenians in Lebanon became relevant, and for a historical painful reason.
In 1915, the Armenia nation would come to suffer an atrocious Genocide by the Ottoman Empire, loosing 1.5 million Christians of its people. A holocaust in all directions was forced unto most remaining Christians, notably to Lebanon, Syria and also Palestine.
At that time, Lebanon was also under the brutal ruling of the Ottomans, and was about to live one of the cruelest phases of its history.
The Great Famine fell upon Lebanon that same year, ravaging the country, and taking, on its merciless wave of death, half a million of the Lebanese population (1915-1918).
The iron-siege of the ruling Empire further the tremendous human sufferings on both the Lebanese people and the Armenian refugees.
Historically, and up to now, Lebanon has demonstrated a stance of grand compassion and assistance to populations fleeing wars and devastation in their countries by masses: Armenians (1915), Palestinians (1948) and recently Syrians with over 1.7 million refugees sheltered in Lebanon.
For a small country like ours, with little resources and always struggling, Lebanon should be globally recognized for its outstanding selfless humanity. Whatever the political frictions and dissatisfaction for more, facts are there to state it loud and clear: Lebanon has never closed its doors to suffering nations seeking safety in its land, but has always embraced them.
The Armenian Community: A Subculture of Resilience
The particularity with the Armenians is that they took roots in Lebanon, adopted and adapted, blended in, respected the local laws and constitution, integrated, worked hard to establish themselves and succeed, and became good citizens of Lebanon.
They thrived in becoming one with the Lebanese nation.
Today, the Armenians in Lebanon are Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent.
They are an active part of our government with 7 parliamentary seats and 1 minister. They have their own political parties, and their quota in top-level public positions.
They did not remain idle in their predicament, but worked hard progressively. Many have stood out as successful artists, public figures, jewelry designers, business owners, prominent journalists, TV hosts, architects, and so on. They also own and run major factories in the Industrial region of Beirut.
During the Lebanese brutal civil war of 1975-1992, most remained neutral, and many left to safer countries, notably the US and also Canada.
However, there were many of them who joined in defending the identity and sovereignty of their new homeland, risking their lives, and some at the cost of theirs.
On April 4th 1997, the Lebanese Parliament issued a resolution, calling for the commemoration of the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottomans in 1915
A Fascinating Subculture Was Born to Us…
A community of Christian faith and culture, Lebanese-Armenians are of Orthodox majority. They celebrate their traditional Christmas on January 7th and 8th, yet participate also with ours and their fellow Catholics and Protestants on the 24th and 25th of December. While marriages between Lebanese and Armenians were almost rare, they have been more frequent in the past 2-3 decades.
My personal fascination…
I have always found fascinating a particular feature of our Lebanese-Armenians, and it is in their adamant preservation of their mother tongue. Ten decades have long passed since their forefathers settled in Lebanon, and the fluency of their language remains till date.
Like in a sacred statement of loyalty to their origins, Armenian is the language spoken at home and to communicate with each other, transmitted in all accuracy, through 100 years, to their children, and them to theirs. Sadly, I can’t say the same for our own people in the diaspora.
In that, as in their prevailing and succeeding, the Lebanese-Armenians have all my respect.
Armenian churches and schools are notable in the country, and their Haigazian University in Beirut enjoys excellent academic reputation.
The Lebanese-Armenian Cuisine:
The Armenian settlers introduced to Lebanon their traditional food, which is basically an Indo-European cultural blend of Eastern European and Western Middle Eastern.
Many of the introduced dishes are well loved nationwide and are widely available in Lebanon:
- the Basterma, a dried seasoned meat with garlic and several spices;
- the Soujouk in its variety,
- the Manti Meat Dumpling,
- the Kourabia butter cookies, which is an Armenian Christmas tradition
You may also find the Shudzhuk in Armenian specialty stores, specially during New Year where it is a tradition of having at all time a plate of dried fruits, almonds, pecans and Shudzhuk. It is believed that it brings blessings to homes. Shudzhuk is a very energizing sweet snack, containing walnuts and made from crystallized grape juice.
Among the known dishes of the Lebanese-Armenian subculture, I can cite:
- the Choreg or Cheurag bread of the Armenian Easter,
- the vegan Lentil Kafta Patties with Burghul,
- the Khorovats BBQ grill wrapped in flat bread,
- the Byorek, a phyllo pie of spinach and feta cheese,
- the Dolma, stuffed zucchini
Tsou Beurag, a very special bread done at home from scratch
Against common beliefs, the Armenian cuisine rarely uses fats and mostly drawn butter.
The inevitable cultural exchange throughout the decades introduced many features of our Lebanese kitchen into theirs.
I invite you to try the Armenian Lentil Kibbeh Patties, which recipe was lovingly provided for you by my good friend Lisa Mardirossian.
Greetings to our Lebanese-Armenian Community!
You are most than welcome to share your recipes on my blog with my readers.
Just drop me a word here or in my FB page! Cheers!