Iraqi Armenians: They too had once a Homeland

Eighth Issue - 3rd November 2007 -

By Hovig Demirjian

"We deeply regret this incident" was the classical statement after the tragic killing of two civil Iraqi Armenians Maro and Geneva earlier this month in Baghdad. A Foreign Security Company staffed by the Australians in Iraq was held responsible for the shooting of these female Taxi drivers who were on their way back home. As if their daily fight and flight was not enough, the Armenian community in Iraq once again mourned for the death of their daughters. The bad news was passed through media without enough attention as if the lives of humans has become so worthless as not to merit mention. Or the media is tired of broadcasting similar incidents and the correspondents give up easily. Whatever is the reason for such lack of concern, we have the responsibility to uncover the truth standing behind the lives of this minor community striving for life and facing death everyday.

Unofficial reports number the Iraqi refugees crossing the borders and reaching Jordan, Syria and Lebanon around 5 million. Yet this figure is never registered in UNHCR (United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees) head offices for fear of further persecution and deportation. While the majority of the refugees are of Muslim faith, the remaining minority are Christians not only in their country of origin but also in the host countries too. Regarding the Armenian community who enjoyed relative safety in Baghdad and Mousel prior to the fall, for them the situation has changed dramatically. All those Armenians who were rich enough to bribe the border knights have safely reached neighboring countries and especially Lebanon. Maintaining a detailed figure about the Armenians leaving Iraq is impossible due to many reasons. Primarily, not all of them register in the governmental offices or UN agencies for fear of identification and thereafter expatriation. Secondly, they don't see a real benefit from such a risky step. Third, the Armenian community already has its socio-medical and educational organizations that will cater for the very needs of the newcomers. For some Bourj Hamoud has remained the cradle for the existence of the Armenians in the Middle East.

According to many live testimonies here in Bourj Hamoud, the Iraqi Armenians are silenced, threatened, displaced from their homes and churches and finally persecuted for the reason of carrying an Armenian name. In other words, such confessions cannot but remind us of the 1915 "deghahan". It all echoes fresh as if history is repeating itself once again. And if all this painful imagery does not move our collective conscience and memory, then one must wonder what does. What should be our expectations from the Lebanese Armenian community at large? On the other hand, what are the role and responsibilities of the refugees themselves in the host countries?
First, instead of absolute reliance on our organizations, every member of the community is in front of the challenge to receive and welcome these refugees even in their homes if needed, at least temporarily. Remember, all of us were refugees once. Secondly, special care, treatment and support have to be provided for the Iraqi Armenians since they are simply victims of war. Finally, educating and schooling them within the local classrooms remains fundamental to avoid any gap. On the part of the refugees, the message is clear for the displaced people and nations: self-isolation might prove destructive. Instead, a quick assimilation within the societal institutions has to succeed in the instance of their first establishment. Otherwise, Armenian refugees in Lebanon might not enjoy the blessing of the natives' welcome.
Finally, the Armenian people and nation at large have accepted its fate for continuous displacements, persecutions, and deghahanner (deportation) . As mentioned before, in the nation's collective memory, displacement has left its fingerprint that might never be erased. In parallel to widely famous historical incidents of displacement, from now forward one example is simply added in our history: Iraqi Armenians and their century old homeland…gone!