Armenians In Ethiopia – A Vanishing Community

By Scribd
Aug 6 2009

Garbis Korajian, a personal friend and a reader of Keghart, brought
to my attention an essay about Armenians in Ethiopia. Reportedly, the
material was used for a PhD thesis by a Swedish author. Unfortunately,
a search did not reveal his identity. Having personal knowledge
of the community, I find the concluding remarks very relevant. To
view the essay in its entirety, please click at Scribd where this
and the following posting entitled Ethiopian Armenians In their own
words are transcribed from. Sentiments of gratitude are extended to
the unknown author. Anybody who is familiar with him please contact
Keghart. [?] Patapan’s book and Ashot Abrahamian’s monograph about
the history of Armenians in Ethiopia – not utilized by the author –
contain additional and important information – Dikran Abrahamian

What I find interesting in anthropology is migration in particular
– how it affects culture and erases ethnic boundaries. What I find
most interesting are just those groups that find themselves in the
middle, the ones one never thinks of: those that live in our midst
– the groups that prove to be exceptional. My interest in social
anthropology has always been in those areas that concern migration,
culture and contemporary ethnicity. How people move, how cultures
are changed by people in motion. I myself have roots in Ethiopia,
a country that is most often connected with poverty or enigmatic
Rastafarian-mystique. To write about Armenians in Ethiopia can seem
rather far-fetched to the uninitiated, but I realised directly that
this was what I wanted to write about. I have on a number of occasions
gone by the Armenian Church in Addis Ababa but never considered why it
is situated there, or even thought at all why there should be Armenians
in Ethiopia; shouldn’t they be in Armenia? When we began reading about
the Armenian diaspora in the A-course the pieces started falling into
place. And the more I looked, the more information I also found about
the diaspora, except those supposedly living in Ethiopia. One answer I
obtained was that they had been dead for a long time. In an Armenian
forum on the Internet they laughed at my question and answered that
there are no black Armenians.

I decided to find out what the situation was. What came out of
my search was a picture of a very little Diaspora on the verge of
extinction, one which had once been very alive but will hardly survive
much longer. This made me even more interested. What had happened? Why
had they suddenly become so few, and where are the remaining Armenians
today? The Armenian diaspora has been documented a number of times,
with the exception of the group in Ethiopia. One has most often
chosen to document the Diasporas that have taken root in what we
call the West. Those groups among the dispersed which choose to
settle in other places are forgotten. Even for many Armenians in the
diaspora, the Ethiopian group is forgotten, despite the fact that the
first Armenians came to Ethiopia already in the 16th century. More
followed at the end of the 19th century, and in connection with
the Armenian genocide the Armenian population was reduced to just
over one thousand. But today there are few Armenians in Ethiopia,
and many Ethiopians have forgotten the role that the Armenians have
played through the years. Ethiopia’s Armenians belong to the past,
though no one has investigated what happened: there is very little
research on Diasporas in the Third World. The focus on Ethiopia has
been on other levels: that it is a country with an extremely rich
and old history influenced by many different peoples is unknown. That
there exist Swedes with different backgrounds is for most people not
particularly strange; but it is more difficult to understand that –
not only in the West – there are groups of people who do not live up
to the stereotype.

[……………………………… ………………………………]


The strength of the Ethio-Armenians lies in their solidarity. Through
maintaining their cultural heritage and the assets that have always
belonged to them, the community has through the years created an
identity that will live on as long as there exist individuals to
maintain it. By constantly keeping the group’s infrastructure intact,
an arena for identity has continued to exist, and the infrastructure
also finances that arena purely economically. It is an identity that
is constantly reproduced within the group through socialisation and
a common basis of values.

The community’s days are numbered, since the small size of the group
speak against it, and this is something that the Ethio-Armenians are
well aware of. The majority of those who have remained in the country
will surely stay for the simple reason that they have lived in Ethiopia
their whole lives. The age of the majority is very high, and many are
far too old to move and start again, as many did when the Derg came
to power. Among the younger Ethio-Armenians there is no chance of
reproducing within the group. Even if they marry outside the group,
the Armenian identity must continue to be the dominant one in order
for the group to be able to live on. This is not an impossibility,
but in the long run the identity will cease existing in connection
with the group’s doing so.

The younger people in the group are more unsure of their future in
Ethiopia, and certainly more inclined to move elsewhere. Virtually
all Ethio-Armenians have more relatives outside Ethiopia than in
the country itself, and with time this can be a decisive reason for
leaving the country.

The club, the church and the school cannot live on without dedicated
individuals – but what would be the point in keeping a church if there
no longer exists anyone to visit it? An influx of new individuals
from the Armenian diaspora presupposes that they are basically
Ethio-Armenians in order for the group’s identity to live on.

[William Saroyan’s statement] ‘For when two of them meet anywhere in
the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia’ … presupposes
that there exist individuals who are willing to work for the group
and its future. It is in this way that they have up to now succeeded
in maintaining their identity, and constantly reproducing it through
the years no matter what has happened in their surroundings. The
Derg revolution strengthened the solidarity among those remaining,
but at the same time the revolution decided the Armenians’ future in
the country.

My conclusion is that the Armenian diaspora in Ethiopia will within
30 years be but a memory. The solidarity will live on outside of
the country, but if there is no immigration the Ethio-Armenian
identity in Ethiopia could never live on. The group will probably
never be compensated by the Ethiopian state either, and therefore a
return migration is unlikely. The Armenians’ legacy in the country –
businesses, buildings and perhaps even the church – will surely live
on. Most of what was once founded by Armenians still remains, even
if it is now owned or run by ethnic Ethiopians. The Armenian legacy
will remain even if it is not referred to as Armenian, in the same
way as we today in Sweden call pasta bolognese Swedish plain food. The
Ethiopian telephone catalogue is full of Armenian names, though they
are today borne mainly by ethnic Ethiopians. The Ethio-Armenians still
living in Ethiopia are the last generation of Ethio-Armenians. When
they no longer remain, the end will have come for a several hundred
year Armenian presence in Ethiopia.

Read reader comments

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS