Tuesday, 07 July, 2020

Letter from Africa: Ethiopia’s lost Armenian community



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In our sequence of letters from African journalists, Ismail Einashe requires a journey to Ethiopia to discover out about a missing group.

My lookup for the very last Armenians of Ethiopia began in Piassa, the bustling industrial centre of the outdated section of the money, Addis Ababa.

On prior visits to the city, I experienced generally been intrigued by the snippets I experienced listened to about the group and its heritage.

There had prolonged been a connection involving Ethiopia and Armenia by means of the Orthodox Church. But this developed outside of clergymen, to provide in diplomats and traders.

In the 19th Century, a handful of Armenians played a critical job in the court docket of Emperor Menelik II.

And later, in the early 20th Century, a neighborhood settled that went on to have an economic and cultural impact in the place.

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There are nonetheless church solutions on specific occasions

On a sticky afternoon, I stood outdoors the gates of the beautiful St George Armenian Apostolic Holy Church that was crafted in the 1930s.

It looked closed but I called out “selam” – “hello there” in Amharic.

A perplexed-looking aged safety guard came out and following I defined that I needed to appear about, he went to fetch Simon, the Armenian-Ethiopian caretaker.

The peaceful, dignified guy came out and told me that they do not get quite a few people.

Haile Selassie’s affect

The church is hardly ever open up, as there is no priest these times, and the neighborhood, of no a lot more than 100, is typically elderly.

Inside of the church, the altar is ornately decorated and crimson Persian rugs cover the ground.

This was the heart of the community that commenced to grow in numbers through the rule of Haile Selassie who, as Ras Tafari, became prince regent of Ethiopia in 1916 and Emperor from 1930 to 1974.

Below his leadership, Ethiopia commenced to fast modernise and Armenian courtiers, businessmen and traders played an significant purpose in this transition.

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The church, in the heart of the previous professional centre of Addis Ababa, was crafted in the 1930s

In 1924, Ras Tafari frequented the Armenian monastery in Jerusalem, where he fulfilled a team of 40 little ones who experienced been orphaned by the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks all through Globe War One.

Moved by their plight, he asked the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem if he could choose them to Ethiopia and appear after them there.

The 40 orphans, or arba lijoch in Amharic, had been all trained in songs and went on to sort the imperial brass band of Ethiopia.

Ismail Einashe

Ismail Einashe

Even with their smaller quantities the Armenian group had a crucial function in ushering Ethiopia into the modern earth”

They ended up led by an Armenian, Kevork Nalbandian, who composed the imperial anthem.

The group arrived at its zenith in the 1960s when it numbered 1,200.

Regardless of their modest numbers they experienced a important role in ushering Ethiopia into the present day world – from helping to develop the exclusive Ethiopian jazz design to doing work as tailors, health professionals, business enterprise individuals and serving in the imperial courtroom.

Emperor’s overthrow

But as the Armenian neighborhood was tied to the imperial background of the state, once the emperor fell the group declined.

Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974 by the Marxist Derg junta, which went on to seize firms and house, which include that of the Armenians.

Their numbers tumbled as numerous fled to North America and Europe.

But a few stayed and some married within just the nearby neighborhood, building a special blend of Armenian and Ethiopian cultures.

They can even now be noticed in the church for particular religious celebrations.

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The Armenian social club even now serves common food items

But there is also the Armenian social club, which has a cafe that reminds people today of the flavor of household.

Simon, the church caretaker, informed me that I should go.

Scrumptious meals

It was a Tuesday night and, aside from my friend and myself, there was a team of 3 Armenian-Ethiopian girls who were being delighted to see strangers in the cafe.

They admitted that the local community was not what it employed to be. But the social club remained as a way to maintain it alive.

That evening, as I tucked into delectable and luxurious börek and lyulya kebabs, I felt I was tasting the record of the Armenians in Ethiopia.

Additional Letters from Africa

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