“Egyptian-Armenian relations are centuries old, and they will continue to grow, as we are witnessing today,” Primate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Egypt, Bishop Ashod Mnatsaganian, who was appointed in 2006.
“All our community members enjoy the warm attitude in Egypt towards our nation,” he added, saying that every Armenian born in Egypt should be proud to contribute to the country’s social and economic development.
“We should also be grateful as we receive the constant support of the Egyptian government to keep our national identity alive without any interference,” he said.
As one of the first nations to adopt Christianity as the official state religion, Mnatsaganian said that the Armenian community was very much attached to their church as this preserves the Armenian language and culture and exposes it to broader sections of Egyptian society.
The Armenian Catholic Bishop of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Jordan and Cyprus Krikor Okosdinos-Coussa, who was appointed in 2004, said that Armenians had been present in Egypt since the 8th century CE. “Their number increased during the 12th to the 16th centuries, and a community was formed in the 19th century after the genocide perpetuated by the Ottoman Turks.”
Apart from the political and economic importance of the celebrations of the Armenian contributions in Egypt, they also have a cultural significance. “The contribution Armenians have made to Egyptian culture deserve attention,” Coussa told the Weekly, adding that the Armenians had helped to create unique cultural bonds between the East and the West.
“Egypt has benefited from the Armenians. Their ancient manuscripts are also preserved in Egyptian libraries, despite attempts elsewhere to destroy them.” The culture of Armenia had helped plant peace and love among other peoples and had combined the achievements of the past with hopes for the future, Coussa said.
Armenian culture was a kind of museum of past and present, he said, showing the strength of the people to continue over time. Egypt has touched the noble qualities of the Armenian people, which was why the government was now honouring the community.
Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Egypt Armen Melkonian, appointed in 2009, hailed the initiative taken by Egyptian Minister of Emigration and Expatriate Affairs Nabila Makram to celebrate Armenians in Egypt, describing it as “unique” and reflecting the depth of relations between the two countries.
“It’s a beautiful expression of appreciation by the Egyptian government of the contribution of the Armenians to Egyptian society,” he told the Weekly. He expressed confidence that Makram and Armenian Minister Mkhitar Hayrapetyan’s presence at the celebrations would give new impetus to community members to create new opportunities in both countries, “something that both Armenia and Egypt will benefit from,” he said.
Vahe Pladian, chairman of the board of the community’s Patriarchal Council, appointed in 2017, said his community members had always had equal rights. “We are Egyptian citizens, and we have existed for centuries like many other foreign minorities in Egypt. However, we have never forgotten our identity and have worked hard to preserve it.”
Pladian expressed his appreciation towards past governments in Egypt for welcoming the Armenians in Port Said in 1915 who were fleeing the genocide perpetuated by the Ottoman Turks.
“Today, the Emigration Ministry’s concern to celebrate the community’s past and present impacts on Egyptian society reinforces the deeply-rooted ties between the community and the Egyptian people,” Pladian told the Weekly.
Head of the Armenian National Committee in Egypt (ANCE) had a different view of the importance of the celebrations initiated by the Egyptian government.
“The ministry’s celebrations will help in efforts made by our committee in raising awareness among the younger generation concerning the history of the Armenians in Egypt and the impact they have had and are still having on Egyptian society,” Armen Mazloumian told the Weekly.
He believes that this will eventually raise awareness of the need to recognise the Armenian Genocide by the government.
Mazloumian added that the community’s young people should stay attached to their roots by impacting on their own community.
“They must understand why they were born here and what Egypt offered to their ancestors at the time of the genocide. They must influence their own community too, taking part in cultural events and presenting Armenian culture and traditions to Egyptian society,” he said.
This would help shed light on modern Armenia and create the potential for it to become a significant trading partner for Egypt and a thriving tourist destination, he added.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Community leaders speak