Vahe H. Apelian
This past April Friday thirteen brought back memories of events that changed the course of my life and altered it forever. I was reminded of the deadly confrontation that happened on Sunday, April 13, 1975, between the armed members of the Lebanese Phalange (Katael) party and Palestinians. On that fateful gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I was returning from Anjar, the Armenian inhabited village of former Moussa Daghtsis. I was held in traffic as I approached Beirut. I asked an armed civilian who was directing the traffic what was the problem? He said that there was a military clash between the armed members of the Phalange (Kataeb) Party and Palestinians. The details of that deadly encounter appear to remain murky to this day. That day and that that incident is generally accepted as the beginning of the Lebanese Civil war as a result of which, a year later, on July 9, 1976, I set foot in the NY Kennedy Airport as another immigrant.
I am born and raised in Lebanon. My parents had me enrolled in A.R.F. Papken Suni Badanegan Association (Myuoutiun) when I was in elementary grade. From there on I became a member of the A.R.F. Zavarian Ashagerdagan (Pupil) and then Oussaneghogand (Student) Associations as I graduated from Elementary to Middle and then High School and entered the American University of Beirut and took my vows to become an active member of the Tashnagtsoutiun (A.R.F).
In a few weeks, the Lebanese will elect the members of their parliament. The first and the only election I participated in Lebanon was the one that took place in the latter part of April 1972. The Lebanese Parliament then was carefully crafted and comprised of 55 Christian and 44 Muslim members with each of the two religious denominations having its share based on its demographic constituency. The Armenian Orthodox community was allocated four seats, the Armenian Catholic Community one seat and the Evangelical community one seat. Traditionally the candidate for the Armenian Catholic and Evangelical seats was reserved to the Phalange Party. During that election, the dominant Armenian political party (A.R.F.) was able to secure the candidacy of the first Armenian Evangelical, Antranig Manougian, M.D.
The A.R.F. had adopted a cherished tradition of appointing only one party member and reserving the other three seats to prominent individuals who were understood to represent the other segments of the great Lebanese Armenian Community. Melkon Eblighatian. M.D. represented the A.R.F. and acted as the representative of the Armenian Parliamentarian bloc. The other three were Souren Khanamirian, the prominent philanthropist who represented the Armenian business community; Khachig Babigian, the prominent lawyer who represented the Catholicoate of Cilicia and Ara Yerevanian, the consul of Gabon, businessman, and philanthropist, represented the none-A.R.F. fraction.
Sometimes in the later part of 1974, Dr. Melkon Eblighatian presented to the A.R.F. Zavarian Student Association his experiences as a parliamentarian. He had succeeded Movses Der Kaloustian who was the longstanding member of Lebanese Parliament. Dr. Eblighatian gave much tribute to his predecessor noting that the greatest challenge he faced was being accepted as the one who will be filling Der Kaloustian’s vacant seat. Among the wheeling and dealing Lebanese descendants of the merchandizing Phoenicians, Movses Der Kaloustian had stood apart with his unblemished impeccable conduct through the many years he served as a parliamentarian.
The second part of Dr. Eblighatian’s lecture constituted analyzing the political situation in Lebanon. A heightened political mood prevailed in the country. He concluded his lecture saying, I quote verbatim, “hot days await us during the upcoming spring”. The ensuing turn of events, starting with the “bus incident” on April 14, 1975, proved that he was prophetic indeed.
Sometime in early 1980’s Dr Melkon Eblighatian visited New Jersey where his son Norayr lived with his family. I interviewed him and recorded it. Norayr and I then transcribed the interview. I wrote an introduction and presented it to “Hairenik” Daily where both my interview and introduction were presented on the front page. My contention in my introductory remarks was that the Lebanese civil war had far more destructive ramification to the Armenians than to the rest.
March 2011 is usually regarded the time that sparked the current civil war in Syria. One year and a few months later, in November 2012, the Syrian Armenians in Aleppo convened to best figure out how to best brave the ongoing civil war.
I cite these to make a point. Often times we, as Armenians, criticize ourselves that we historically lack political foresight. I do not believe it to be necessarily so. In both of these cases, the Armenian leadership anticipated the upcoming and prepared the community to face it but surely did not visualize the magnitude of the ensuing destruction. I doubt that if anyone could have possibly anticipated the level of destruction in these civil wars, still ongoing in Syria.
The civil wars in Syria and in Lebanon fundamentally changed the course of the Armenian Diaspora. These two communities remain the bastions for the preservation of the Western Armenian culture in spite of the fact that they remain mortally wounded. Nowhere else, be it in Diaspora or in Armenia, the Western Armenian language and literature have a better chance of preservation. Who knows? It might be that it’s in our stars that we should be subjected to such destructive forces far from our ability to contain them. I am no sure if it is a common metaphor but my late father used to say “the horses stamped and they mass up the green grass”. We were patches of the green grass in these two courtiers and we were not unprepared but forces far greater than our ability to control or contain caused havoc and perilously altered the course of the post-genocide Armenian Diaspora.