19 July 2014

Haleb (Aleppo) Armenian Community

Written by Levon Sharoyan for "Aleppo Armenians" and "Armenian Cultural" Facebook pages. 

Translated by Vahe H. Apelian for Keghart publication

For Armenians in Armenia and in Diaspora the Armenian community of Aleppo was isolated, self contained and traditional. It did not portray the luster and the flamboyance of the Paris, Los Angeles and even Beirut Armenian communities. The latter in fact - I hope it would not mind me stating - regarded Aleppo as a backward village. For consolation they had crowned us as the "Mother Diaspora Community" and we were happy with the coronation.

The unprecedented turn of events in the last three years due to the civil war in Syria and especially the deliberate destructions of Kessab and of the Aleppo Armenian neighborhood of Nor Kyugh, focused the attention of the Diaspora on the one time "Mother Diaspora Community", the "Dreamy Haleb". Every body started lamenting the possible loss of the community. Armenian Diaspora was mobilized to save its Haleb community to safeguard its values, but alas …"after breakage"… 

What were the characteristics of this community that the Diaspora is intent on safeguarding?

It is life's unmistakable order that we appreciate the value of a thing after losing it. But let us for a moment put our heads together and ponder as to the values of the Haleb community that are worth saving. What were the distinguishing characteristics of this community? What did the Haleb Armenian community offer that the others do not as well? I will present a cursory listing of these characteristics and I will let the readers do the critical and in depth evaluation. 

Let us begin the with community's religious and church lives.

Haleb hosts eleven Christian denominations among them the three mainstream Armenian denominations: Apostolic, Catholic and Evangelical in alphabetical listing. Each denomination is well organized and very active. The religious and church lives of the Haleb Armenian community have always been exemplary. The Holy Forty Martyrs Church of the Armenian Apostolic denomination dates back more than five hundred years. Our churches have always been full to capacity on Sundays and on Holidays. "Capacity crowd" typically exemplified the attendance of the Haleb Armenian churches. Should you ever have attended the early mass during the holidays you would have remained mesmerized by our all-volunteer large choirs. I would like to emphasize on the word "volunteer" because in Europe and in the United States even the scribe (դպիրներ) are paid. Weddings and baptisms had to be booked months in advance because there were so many them. I can insist that the Haleb Armenian community's rich and traditional church life may have come second only to Istanbul's. We had a very rich church life here. No wonder that the Seminarians in Antelias liked to come to Aleppo to perform mass. No other Armenian community could possibly have matched the imperial like reception community extended to the visiting Catholicos during his pontifical visit.

No comments: