Photograph from Egypt Precipitates Flood of Memories and Reflections
Special to the Armenian Weekly
Recently while going through my files looking for a specific document, I came upon a picture that brought up memories and made me reflect on what my generation—now in our 70s, all born in Egypt in the 1940’s—went through in life, and what is next.
The picture is of a 3rd grade class in the Armenian “Kalousdian” School in Cairo, Egypt, taken in 1953. (I am in the second row, fourth from left.) Our grade teacher was Berdj Momjian (left), the school principal Dikran Babikian (right). Both were dedicated educators, deeply cared about the education and welfare of their students, and did their utmost not only to teach us the basic elements of the various disciplines but also to lay the foundations for us to become morally good citizens, and instilled in our minds and souls the resilience of the Armenian spirit.
In 1952, King Farouk was deposed and exiled. The country was then governed by the military junta led by Nasser. Initially the minorities (Armenians, Greeks, Italians) were optimistic that the new regime would improve the wellbeing of its citizens. There was apprehension, but no panic.
At the time, the Armenian community in Egypt—mainly centered in Cairo and Alexandria—was well established, vibrant, and socially active. We had our schools, our churches, our sporting clubs and party-affiliated organizations and clubs. After school, and after completing our homework and tasks, my friends and I would spend our evenings at the “Ararat” club or at “Houssaper-Talar Danik.” These were happy days, positively influenced by the remarkable leaders, coaches, and mentors of the time.
Then in 1956, the political scene changed. Nasser decided to nationalize the Suez Canal; what followed was a wave of nationalization impacting most companies that employed 50 people or more. The victims of this nationalization included a number of well-established Armenian-owned businesses and enterprises. This had a dramatic, negative economic impact on the businesses, which had many Armenian employees, whose economic welfare and continued employment, in turn, became insecure, uncertain, and highly risky.
After this nationalization, the 1956 Suez Canal War, and the interference by the U.S.S.R and the U.S. (which totally mishandled and bungled up the situation), Nasser, who was a great orator with strong convictions, started his campaign of “Pan-Arabism,” changing the geo-political realities in the Middle East, the consequences of which are still being felt in the region.
In this unfavorable and tense environment, the exodus of Armenians and other minorities from Egypt began. We and our parents, who were children of genocide survivors, who had done their best to rebuild their lives in Egypt, were forced directly or indirectly, subtly or coercively, to make the decision to leave Egypt and start anew in a foreign land. Immigration to Canada and Australia were opened up, and the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA) was helping ensure passage to the United States through Lebanon.
Which brings me back to the picture. There are 37 students in the picture (a big class). With time passing and memory fading, admittedly and sadly I do not recall the full names of all my classmates. I remember some first names, or some family names, some nicknames, but only about half of them.
Of the 37, I know for sure that 7 are in Canada, 6 in the U.S., and 5 in Australia. I wonder where the others are and if they are still alive. I have been fortunate and blessed enough to have kept in touch with seven of them. I consider them real, true friends; indeed, more like brothers.
We all had our initial struggles. Our ups and downs, our failures and successes, our joys and sadnesses. But we all managed against many odds to endure and survive. More importantly, to the best of our ability, we all continued to be actively involved in the communities we were in and the Armenian Cause. We are now grandparents.
Growing up in Egypt, we were Armenians. Egyptians called us “Khawaga,” a word meaning foreigner. Now, in our new countries, we and our children are called American-Armenian, Canadian-Armenian, and Australian- Armenian.
And now, on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, I am deeply concerned and troubled by the hardships the Armenian communities in Syria and Iraq are facing. It seems unfair that history, every 40-50 years, rears its ugly head and repeats itself, uprooting well-established, vibrant, peaceful, and productive Armenian communities, forcing them to again become wandering immigrants. It is heart-wrenching to witness their pain and suffering.
So, I wonder:
When will justice that we deserve be served?
What will the next 100 years bring?
Will our American/Canadian/Australian-Armenian grandchildren continue the struggle and the fight to achieve Justice?
Will Armenia become an economically secure, safe, prosperous, and viable nation?
Will we have world peace?
On the Centennial, much progress was made and remarkable accomplishments were achieved. But, a lot still needs to be done. We cannot let up.
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