By Dikran Abrahamian MD, Ontario, 28 October 2022
Eighty-six thousand people were gathered at the commemoration in Beirut. It was 24th of April 1965, the date of the 50th anniversary of the Genocide of Armenians. The same day thousands of people flooded the streets in Yerevan calling “Hoghere, hoghere” (the lands, the lands). The two historic events were a clarion call to not forget the calamity that had befallen the Armenian nation and to reclaim the lost lands. By then only Uruguay had recognized the Genocide on April 20, 1965. The Senate and the House of Representatives of Uruguay declared 24th of April as the Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Martyrs “in honor of the members of that nationality slain in 1915.”
Since these momentous events thousands of articles and hundreds of books have been written about the Genocide of Armenians, scores of resolutions have been passed by international organizations, and over 30 countries have recognized its veracity.
It is estimated that one in three Armenians living in Lebanon participated in the commemoration. It was an unprecedented show of unity around a national cause. It had consumed many meetings, scores of negotiations between various groups to organize this memorable event about which the media reflected at the time. Not much was expressed about the role of the Armenian students who organized several events at the American University, Haigazian College (University) and other locales, and they involved non-Armenians in their activities. More importantly, almost nothing is recorded about the role the students played in the preceding years that set the path to commemorate in unity.
The years 1963 and 1964 had seen some fermentation and grumbles in various youth and student organizations, particularly in those that had party affiliations. The most dramatic and radical action was the en masse resignation of students and intellectuals from the Armenian section of the Communist Party of Lebanon. In addition to organizational grievances a central issue about which they disagreed with the leadership revolved around strictly Armenian national interests, of prime importance being the party’s ambiguous policy regarding the Genocide. The students and young intellectuals argued that the party lacked a firm standing about the matter. Some went further; they stated that they did not have to follow the dictates of Kremlin whose interests were contingent on international political concerns, and that the Genocide issue should not be sacrificed because of those interests.
Shortly after separating from the party, the principal student leadership, composed of three senior students who led the rest of the student cells and the larger discreet organization “Ousanoghats” (ULAS-Union of Lebanese Students), decided that students of all stripes should commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Genocide in unity. Secondly, they thought of finding the means to exert influence on the leadership of the three parties, i.e. the Ramgavars, Hunchaks and Tashnags to do the same. It was a long shot considering the prevailing negative mood between the parties at the time.
In retrospect, analyzing how things developed following that decision, these “revolting” students were cognizant of two crucial factors. They lacked the means (forums, media, clubs, etc.) to propagate their ideas, and more importantly the various other student bodies controlled by parties were hardly in speaking terms with each other. The wounds of fratricide (1958-60) were still gaping, and the Tashnag oriented groups were at odds with the rest of the student bodies. The divisions were along party lines.
Since 1959, still in high school, these young people had gained experience in the art of negotiation and achieving consensus with others while organizing “Kitch me amen pan” (variety shows). Their friendship extended beyond the narrow circles and included many who held ideologically opposite views. Accordingly they contacted broad minded friends who held similar opinions about the necessity of commemorating the Genocide in unity, and a group composed of eight people was formed. In alphabetical order they were Dikran Abajian, Dikran Abrahamian, Serop Baboujian – Apoyan (deceased), Meguerditch H. Bouldoukian, Meguerditch L. Bouldoukian, Yeghish Hajakian (deceased), Marzbed Margosian and Jirair Tanielian. The first meeting was held at a friend’s house in Bourj Hammoud. The team functioned as an inconspicuous nerve centre in the following two years until the various events were held in 1965. For brevity and convenience, the team will be named “Beirut 8” in subsequent paragraphs.
In preparation to implement the plan of “Commemoration in Unity” in 1965, “Beirut 8” tirelessly engaged in several activities propagating the idea. Some important activities – not necessarily in chronological order – included:
- Meetings were held with significant young intellectuals who had clout in their respective circles and could exert influence: Kevork Ajemian, Hagop Boghossian, Kasbar Derderian, Vahé Oshagan, Levon Torossian and others.
- A series of lectures were held about Armenian history and culture, local and international challenges facing the Armenians; mainly the New High School (Armen Gharib) was the venue; the hall was always wall-to-wall full by attendees who were eager to hear new young voices instead of the traditional party leaders.
- “Beirut 8” members were all graduates from AGBU high schools — two from Melkonian Educational Institute (Cyprus) and the rest from Hovaguimian-Manougian Secondary School for Boys (Beirut); as such they were members of AGBU Zareh Noubar club’s Armenian University Students’ Association. They fielded like minded candidates and prepared a list for association’s upcoming Autumn 1964 election for executives. The object was to have a recognized legitimate platform to negotiate with other student bodies for a common plan.
- Recruit new members dedicated to the goal.
- It was an unprecedented feature listing items of what the team would accomplish if elected. They were distributed in printed form to the members of the Union at Haigazian College (University), British College for Women (BCW) and American University of Beirut (AUB) campuses. Occasionally heated discussions took place between students supporting opposite lists of candidates. In the presence of about a dozen individuals in front of AUB central library, on one occasion, an AGBU member student was called “traitor”, because he was seen engaged in discussion with another student from Zavarian Students’ Union of ARF. On the day of a tumultuous election, marred by frequent interruptions and allegations, around 250 members were present. The contest was between the list sponsored by “Beirut 8” and a list backed by members of the Portukalian Students’ Club of ADLP (Ramgavars).
The list sponsored by “Beirut 8” prevailed.
Following the elections and the executive being under the control of “Beirut 8” negotiations were carried with other student associations, namely the Zavarian (ARF), Portukalian (Ramgavar) and Haigazian Armenian Students’ Associations (HASA). Eventually an ad-hoc body was elected which was headed by the representative of HASA Jirair Tanielian, partly because Ramgavars did resent a Zavarian heading the body overseeing activities and Zavarian members would not tolerate a Ramgavar to be in the lead. The tortuous process for unity ultimately proved to be contagious and simultaneously leaderships of the various parties coalesced around the idea.
What the students achieved was remarkable. Chronologically they became the initial catalyst bringing the Armenian community in Lebanon together.
Fast forward to present day.
The Azeri aggression and barbarity, the incompetence of the Pashinyan government, Putin’s betrayal, and the perceived indifference of the world to Armenians’ plight have sent many a diasporan Armenian into non-clinical depression and intellectual paralysis. There is a widespread belief that we cannot impact the dismal developments.
But the fact that our nation is nearly 3,000-year-old is no miracle. We have survived and prospered because of our love of our country/people and the strength of the Armenian sense of identity.
When the “Beirut 8” could be the initial motivator of 85,000 people nearly 60 years ago, the five million or so Armenian diaspora can move mountains if even one percent of the diaspora blows away its cobwebs and gets into action.
This item was submitted for publication at the end of October. Since then we received the sad news that two of “Beirut 8” members Marzbed Margosian and Jirair Tanielian passed away. Keghart will reflect on them in the next issue (Dec. 10).