14 May 2005

Armenian Community in Kuwait: Brief History

AZAD-HYE (14 May 2005): After the formation of the United Arab Republic in
Egypt and Syria (1958), many Armenians emigrated to the United States,
Canada, Australia, Argentina and elsewhere. Some of them arrived in Kuwait,
then a desert Emirate, with limited modern comforts.

In 1959 young priest Gorun Shrikian visited Kuwait on two different
occasions, during which he established a congregation, the core of the
present day Armenian Community.

In 1961 priest Barouyr Sarkissian settled down in Kuwait City and served the
community for more than thirty years.

The Community was originally formed by bachelors who were employed in light
industries, auto repair shops, electronics, services etc. Eventually they
got married and brought to Kuwait their brides from their countries of
origin (Syria, Lebanon, Iran, etc.). As their children reached schooling
age, the need for learning the Armenian language, history and religion led
to the establishment of a school in the late 1960's. The new premises of the
school were inaugurated in 1972.

Since then the number of the Armenians in Kuwait expanded and reached a peak
of 12000 in the mid 1980's. The number of students enrolled in the Armenian
School scored a record 700 pupils. High School section (Azkayin Jemaran) was
introduced, enabling graduates to get enrolled in University level graduate
courses worldwide. Today the school covers the whole range from kindergarten
to the 12th grade. It has some 35 full-time teachers, half of them

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces of the ousted regime of Saddam
Hussein caused great damage to the State of Kuwait and the Armenian
Community. Fortunately the invasion took place in August (1990), during
which many Armenian families were already outside the country and did not
directly suffer the consequences of the invasion. Only 500 Armenians
remained in Kuwait during the six months of the Iraqi invasion, many fled
the country through the Saudi border.

After the restoration of national authority in Kuwait, many Armenians
returned to their positions in Kuwait, yet a considerable number continued
living in new places. The returned ones were compensated by the Kuwaiti
government (through special arrangement with the United Nations) with
monthly salaries that covered the complete period of invasion. The number of
Armenians after the invasion steadily rose to 3000 in 1994 (present day
estimation is 4500, number of students 350).

The eternal problem of the School is to find a lasting and capable
headmaster. The most problematic year was 2000-2001 when the Headmistress
(Knarik Kasbarian) was dismissed in the middle of the School Year and the
School governing body experienced severe conflict with the National Council
(heavily backed by ARF party members). After a series of unsuccessful
choices Minas Hanskehyan was appointed as Headmaster.

The first Armenian publication of Kuwait appeared in the Armenian School
under the name "Swallow" (Dzidzernag / 1978). The current student
publication is called "Oasis" (second term 2004, 16 pages). The Armenian
scout movement (Homenetmen) is active since the 1970's. Church choir
"Naregatsi" is conducted by Kevork Hadjian.

The Representative of the Catholicosate of Cilicia for the entire Gulf
Region's Armenians has its seat in Kuwait City (Salmiya Area, PO Box 8157,
Tel: 00965-5614392, Fax: 00965-5638312). First prelacy level elections took
place in 1994. The dominant political fraction is ARF, which controls all
seats in local bodies, through appointing loyal members and sympathizers.
The official publication of the Prelacy is called "Aztarar" (since 1993 /
dubbed as "bulletin of Armenian Affairs", in PDF format since September
2004). It is basically a compilation of general Armenian news (mostly from
ARF affiliated sources). Compiler is Kevork Hadjian. The present day
Catholicosal Representative is Archbishop Dr. Gorun Babian (long time Head
of Church in Isfahan, Iran, originally from Lebanon). The priest is Der
Ardag Kehyeyan (son of Der Adom, reputed priest in Aleppo for many

Armenians have a great reputation in Kuwait. The local media occasionally
writes about the Armenians and their activities. On the occasion of the 90th
Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide the Armenians organized a blood
donation. About one hundred persons donated blood to people in need. Media
referred extensively to the blood donation, the Armenian Genocide, the
painting exhibition organized by the Armenian School, etc. Archbishop Babian
was interviewed. Giragos Kouyoumdjian wrote several articles in Kuwait
English and Arabic newspapers, stressing the meaning of the Genocide and
expressing thanks to the Arabs who welcomed the Armenians during difficult
times (World War I). The Turkish Embassy in Kuwait responded with the usual
denial of the Genocide, providing explanation of the reasons behind the
Armenian "deportations".

Some individual Kuwaiti writers urged the Turkish government to acknowledge
the Genocide. They sympathized with the Armenians, especially that Kuwait
and Armenia are both small nations in a sea of surrounding bigger entities.

See special photos of Kuwaiti Armenian establishments (School and Church) in
the Photo Gallery. Above photo: Students of 11th and 12th Grade 2003-2004

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