ORANGE COUNTY—Hamazkayin Orange County Siamanto Chapter, presented Aleppo Heritage Day with great success. 150 people from all over the Southland packed the Harout Barsamian Armenian Center on Sunday, April 28. To add a historical touch, the Board gave each of the fourteen tables the names of Armenian schools in Aleppo.
Each year Hamazkayin Siamanto educates the public by presenting a different historical Armenian town and showcases it’s community, culture, foods, etc., in their “Dohmigi Or” events. Past featured locations included Sasoun, Kessab, Anjar, Marash, Aintab, and Yerevan.
In his opening remarks, Hamazkayin Siamanto Chairman Zareh Sapsezian said, “If Armenian Diaspora is a body, Aleppo is the heart of that body; if Armenian Diaspora is spirit, Aleppo is its inspiration. And if Armenian Diaspora consists of different settlements, Aleppo is the mother settlement.”
The program’s presentation was opened by Vahram L. Shemmassian, Ph.D, Director of Armenian Studies Program at California State University, Northridge and past principal of Ari Guiragos Armenian School. He spoke on “Historical Aleppo” and its Armenian Community from 1860-1920.
Dr. Shemmassian explained that the Armenian population of Aleppo in the late 1800s was predominantly Catholic “Arman Adin” (Old Armenians of Syria who had been Arabicized) and numbered in the 6,000s. After 1915, that number was matched by Armenian Apostolics who arrived to Aleppo seeking refuge from the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turks. There were also several hundred Armenian Evangelical Protestants. Thus, the Armenian population of Aleppo grew to around 14,000, post Hamidian Massacres of 1896.
After the Genocide, the Armenian population in Aleppo grew to 100,000. Professor Shemmassian mentioned there were fifty Armenia organizations in Aleppo. Interestingly, 98% of all bakers in Aleppo were Sasoun Armenians; so much so that local Arabs used the word “Soosani” to denote a baker.
Following this historical presentation was a “Slide Show of Dreamy Aleppo” given by Garo Agopian, Ph.D. Of note, Dr. Garo Agopian was the founding member of Hamazkayin Orange County, Siamanto Chapter. He provided interesting data on Armenian trade in Aleppo. For example, all 50 photographers in Aleppo were Armenian. Of the 50 jewelers in Aleppo, all but one was Armenian. Dr. Agopian named famous people from Aleppo, including well-known writer Andranik Zarougian and former Foreign Minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian, whose brother Norair and his wife Salpie were in the audience.
The slide show of photographs of historical Aleppo was captivating. Historical buildings shown included Forty Martyrs Cathedral built in 1491, St. Krikor Church, Karen Jeppe Jemaran, Sahagian School, Gulbenkian Maternity Hospital, and the Armenian Cemetery of Aleppo, where writer Hagop Oshagan and Karen Jeppe (Danish Missionary who was instrumental in saving many Armenian lives) are entombed. An interesting note was the legendary Hôtel Baron, an Armenian institution, was the setting for Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, and hosted dignitaries and movie stars.
The entertainment for the evening started with keyboard melodies by Arick Gevorkian, who later entertained us with accordion and song, poetry reciting by Karen Ayvazian, and songs by Tamar Tufenkjian. The Hall was appropriately decorated with rugs, throws, and authentic red Aleppo style slippers by Zepur Ohanessian.
Traditional Aleppo cuisine tantalized our taste buds by caterer Zaroug. The menu included appetizers and foods such as Kebbe Sajj, Taratoor with chicken, Toshka, Rasse Naane’, Shawerma, Fattoush, and Armenian coffee and Moushabbak for dessert.
At the conclusion of the event, people circled around the keyboardist Arick Gevorkian and enthusiastically broke out in traditional Armenian songs.
We would like to acknowledge the following individuals and organizations for making this event possible: ARF Armen Karo Gomideh, Hratch Hintilian for audio visual assistance, Hagop Arjian for tending bar, and Hamazkayin Board members – Shoushig Arslanian (Executive Committee Liaison), Zareh Sapsezian, Vania Arjian, Hourig Keuylian, Maro Malakian, Ani Meguerditchian, Kohar Zaher, and Shoghig Shahinian.