News > UAE Armenians > Antranig Daghlian: Our unity is a top priority
Antranig Daghlian, a graduate of Yerevan Polytechnic, an architect by profession, has lived in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf states for more than three decades.
Four years after the publishing of his memoirs, Azad-Hye met Mr. Daghlian and asked him about the past, present and future of the Armenian diaspora in the world generally and in the UAE in particular.
Could you describe the activities of the Armenian Cultural Association of Abu Dhabi and how it was initially formed?
First, let me say that, in general, we have not been a united and stable community in the United Arab Emirates. Most of us come here in pursuit of a job, stay and leave after several years.
The UAE as a country has started almost four decades ago from an absolute colonial scratch. It is fortunate that Armenians from the Middle Eastern countries took part in the construction and development process of this country. The Armenian community started to grow by the time.
In order to keep our identity alive, we gradually started since 1975 to get organized and have temporary church services by visiting priests, one-day weekly schools in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, get-together events and cultural activities, national commemorations, lectures, etc.
Due to the difficult times of the Lebanese Civil War, we invited from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (Amman Diocese) Reverend Vahan Topalian (now Archbishop) who visited Abu Dhabi in 1976 and officiated the first church service in Armenian ritual. Another religious service was offered by a priest invited from Teheran, Iran (before the Iranian Revolution). At the end of 1979 Reverend Oshagan Choloyan (now Archbishop) of the Catholicosate of Antelias, Beirut visited the UAE and gave a service (I have mentioned the circumstances related to this and subsequent events and mishaps in my memoirs “Thoughts through the time” published in 2004).
We have invited writer Yervant Barsoumian, artist Vazken Tutunjian, and many others from Lebanon and elsewhere.
During Soviet times, we have worked closely with the Committee for Cultural Relations with Diaspora Armenians and secured textbooks prepared for diasporan schools.
As the community grew in number two Armenian National Councils were formed in Sharjah-Dubai (as a single entity) and Abu Dhabi, to organize several national and religious commemorative events throughout the year and to look after the basic needs of the community.
Armenians in the UAE have diverse backgrounds. They are mainly from the Middle Eastern countries. There are others from Europe, USA and Northern African countries like Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and elsewhere, in addition to those who have come here from Armenia after the Independence. It is unfortunate to say that the Armenians from Armenia do not interact well in our social gatherings and in most of the cases do not bother as well to attend the cultural events and gatherings.
Regarding our cultural activities, we have been pretty active since the mid 1970s, when few young Armenian intellectuals in Abu Dhabi, including myself, got together and decided to create a circle, a sort of forum that deals with cultural, historical, scientific subjects. After a certain while, we widened the circle and started to invite professionals, writers, poets, composers, painters, architects from Armenia and Middle Eastern Diasporan communities. We invited classical orchestra groups from Armenia with renowned conductors, singers, violinists, pianists, etc. We organized as well Armenian art and culture exhibitions with the participation of painters, sculptors. Our organization is called the “Armenian Cultural Association of Abu Dhabi”, with an almost 25 years old history, full of achievements.
We used to have at least two major cultural events every year and our audience, which grew up steadily, was predominantly made of foreigners, who highly appreciated the professional performance of Armenian artists. Most recently we had Aram Khatchaturian’s “Gayane” ballet, composed of 78 professional dancers on the stage. It was the first time ever a live ballet being performed in the entire Gulf region. It was a great success. After Abu Dhabi, they went to Bahrain to take part in an international festival there. You can not imagine the amount of logistics and administrative work and energy needed to organize an event of such magnitude. Add to it the tremendous financial cost.
The UAE Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi, which is a governmental agency, has always provided full support to us. They have provided the main theatre hall of the city for our performances, transportation and accommodation free of charge to small and large groups. We covered all other expenses. Nevertheless, we never hesitated and we continued to invite the best during the years, because our ultimate goal was promoting the high level professional standard of our Armenian classical performers, artists, in front of the foreign audience.
Besides the cultural activities what other activities the Armenian Cultural Association is involved in?
The catastrophic earthquake end of 1988 in Gyumri and Spitak, besides causing more than 30 thousand human casualties and destruction of cities and villages, it left thousands of orphans. We decided to act quickly and send humanitarian help. We donated a carpentry workshop equipments and machinery for manufacturing wooden windows and doors, with the capacity of employing 100 workers to rebuild the damaged buildings. These equipments were air freighted from Abu Dhabi to Yerevan in a short time. Also we adopted to help 35 orphans aged 3-10 years and assist them financially covering their living and educational costs. We have continued to care for them and now we are providing their higher education as well. At the moment, we have 25 students in various universities, conservatory, art academy in Yerevan and Gyumri.
The financial help is given directly to the orphans and / or the students by hand annually during our visits there, with coordination of concerned municipalities and organizations, or in front of rectors of universities, obtaining the signature of the students, confirming that they have received the designated sums.
Will there be the same excitement in today’s generation to continue what you have started?
We Armenian have always lived in many places in the world. For example, in the 15th century, the Armenians in the Middle Ages traded with the Far East, Indian Subcontinent, China, Russia, Europe, settled down in different places and established their churches, schools, etc, but then they had migrated to other countries and left no trace except the remnants of the churches and the graveyards behind. I am afraid we might end up like them.
We know that there is a certain number of young people in our community in the UAE. How can we attract them into community work?
Well, this should be done according to each one’s interest. We have to encourage and involve them. We expect one of the duties of the Embassy of Armenia is to help out, because such work needs cooperation between the Diaspora and Armenia. The newly established Diaspora Ministry can be instrumental in this context. In one word, if act as a united community, hand in hand, there would be nothing impossible to achieve.
As the diasporan Armenians have very esteemed reputation in all countries they are living in as hard workers, reliable, talented in technical, craftsmanship, arts, culture, sports, science etc.
Take example our first Armenian newspaper (Aztarar) which was published at the end of the 18th century in Madras, an Indian city located very far from Armenia. It was distributed, in those days, to many Armenians living worldwide through the merchant trade ships, traveling from India to the Ottoman Empire, to Europe and in British colonies, etc. Today we have more facilities under our disposal than we ever had throughout our national history, so why we do not proceed to use these facilities to the maximum. Such an effort can create stronger bonds between us.
Now that we dominate many foreign languages, why not to propagate our achievements, cultural heritage, architecture, literature, history, scientific contributions, military personnel in different countries, etc., in their languages? Why not to use the broadcasting of international various TV channels, magazines, new technological media systems etc, which obviously requires tremendous amount of money but are very effective in conveying our message?
So what is the real problem that does not allow such collective progress?
It is in ourselves. Every one of us wants to be independent, to shine alone. Unity and collective work is not in our vocabulary. For instance, there are one billion Catholics in the world, with many national identities and races, but they all follow the same Pope, but we the Armenians have two catholicos, two patriarchs … with no unity in their work, as if being independent and entirely different entities … In the Middle Ages we had more than 4-5 catholicoses. In Armenia today there are more than 100 officially registered political parties.
Another example, in Lebanon we had and still have the best physicians, engineers, bankers, consultants, contracting companies, etc, but we could not manage to establish an Armenian hospital or start an Armenian bank or construction contacting company.
The reason is that, we are individualists; we want to shine alone, not united. It appears, as it is a national character. It seems that we like to play on our own. We do not know what team spirit means. If we were united together as a strong team, today Armenia would have meant a country of much bigger status, much larger in territory and population and well recognized by the world.
We lost our unity a certain crucial time in our history when Byzantine was withdrawing from Asia Minor and Seljuk Turks were penetrating into our homeland. A vacuum of power created. The invaders found a very rich culture but no serious and centralized defenders. They saw a power vacuum. They could easily subdue and enslave us, until the 20th century when they culminated their dominance by committing Genocide.
History teaches us, that we should not overlook the lessons of our unity. If we only understand this, we will be able to secure a better future for other generations to come. If we want to look into the future, we need to set our unity as a priority. Without unity we will not be able to develop strong national policy and even survive and continue to exist in the future.