Carlos Antaramian

Carlos Antaramian: Mexico Has Always Had a Small but Strong Armenian Community

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By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Carlos Antaramián is the only Mexican Armenian I have met, one of the active members of a small Armenian community in Mexico, who has been researching the history of this community and other Armenians-related topics. He travels often to Armenia, participating in different events. In 2015 he took part in the events dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and served as an observer in the elections of Artsakh. At the Spanish Club in Yerevan, he screened the film “Armenians in Mexico” by American-Armenian Philip Boyajian, shot in 1957, the only copy of which is in his possession.

Below, Antaramian in his own words tells us about himself and the Armenian community in Mexico:

I was born in 1972 in Mexico. My father, Eduardo Antaramián, was also born in Mexico, and my mother is Mexican of Spanish-Indian descent. My paternal grandmother, Victoria, was from Constantinople, and my great-grandfather, Garabed, from Kharberd area or Charsanjak, Hoshe village, near Peri, today called Akpazar, close to Dersim. I have visited there once. My grandfather Garabed was one of the Genocide survivors. The only thing he said was that his mother and younger siblings had committed suicide by jumping into the river, not surviving the slaughter of other family members. My grandfather was rescued by a Kurdish family; then he went in Aleppo, from where he left for Mexico in 1923. In 2015 I went down to the river to pay tribute to my ancestors who found their end there. By the way, my 6-year-old daughter, knowing where to go, gave me one of her toys and asked me to throw it into the river…

I studied international relations at the National University of Mexico, then social anthropology in Zamora Michoacán. My PhD thesis was about commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in different places. To this end, I have studied commemoration ceremonies in Paris, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Yerevan, and interviewed various individuals. In my work I try to illustrate and analyze the similarities and differences between the first commemoration of April 24 (in 1919 in Constantinople) to date. For instance, by 1965, for example, our victims were constantly remembered, but no demands were made.

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I have also been studying the history of the Armenian presence in Mexico for many years, collecting written material, photos and videos, and have already shot a small documentary on the subject. In the Inquisition archives in Mexico, I found an Armenian document written in 1632 according to which Francisco Martin, probably an Armenian, applied to the Inquisition for forgiveness of sins. In the same folder there’s and Armenian alphabet, if both documents are linked, this is probably the oldest document written in Armenian language in the Americas. In the same archive I also found some documents about Don Pedro de Zarate, an 18th-century Armenian whose name is well-known in historiography. The 54 archive documents mention Armenians living in the Philippines in the 18th century (since the Philippines was then a colony of New Spain, today’s Mexico). From the 19th century, I found a wonderful historical figure, Hagop (Jacobo) Harootian, about whom I am writing a biography. He was from Aleppo and left for the US in 1883, served in the US Army until 1889, then came to Mexico, was a miner, discovered several mines, including Mexico’s largest gold mine. When the Mexican Revolution began, he helped the revolutionaries, got in touch with the leader of the revolution, Francisco I. Madero (their joint photo is saved). Later he became a general, served in a dictatorial government, fought against Zapata and Pancho Villa. When the government was defeated, he went into exile, to New Orleans first, and spent the last years of his life in the Dominican Republic.

Hagop was a true Armenian, and his big house in a small town in Zumpango del Río in the Mexican State of Guerrero was called Casa del Armenio  (The home of the Armenian). It is now the Jacobo Harootian Cultural Center. I am in touch with General Harootian’s grandson, Ruddy Harootian, who is a tourism journalist in New York.

In Mexico our community has always been small; it has never had infrastructures — churches, schools. Only for some time have the branches of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Armenian General Benevolent Union been in operation. But in the 20th century, we had a number of interesting figures that were important to both the community and the Mexican society in general. To the names I have already mentioned I will add the names of three prominent women – dancer and literary critic Armen Ohanian (Sofya Pirbudaghyan), astronomer Paris Pismis de Recilas (Mari Sukiasyan) and writer Emma Dolujanoff (Dolukhanyan).

It is important to note that from the 1940s to the mid-2000s, Armenians in Mexico were isolated from each other. But when the Azerbaijani embassy erected a monument to Heydar Aliyev in the capital, local Armenians organized and began to fight for the demolition of the monument (which took place in 2013). Also, for the first time in thirty years, Mexican Armenians commemorated April 24. In 2014 the Armenian government opened an embassy in Mexico, and local Armenians finally had a meeting place. Our ambassador invited the spiritual leader of the Armenians in Los Angeles to Mexico. On the occasion of the Genocide Centennial, we organized activities in Mexico and Ensenada, at one of the country’s best museums, the Museum of Tolerance, organized an exhibition dedicated to the Armenian Genocide, as well as a lecture by Romanian-Armenian writer Varujan Vosganian. We also planned a film festival on the Armenian Genocide, which did not take place due to pressure from the Turkish Embassy on the Mexico’s Foreign Ministry. It is noteworthy that Mexico has such a denial of the Armenian Genocide. We are also fighting against the Mexican government’s decision to classify the Khojaly events as genocide.

 

The Azeri ambassador has carried out anti-Armenian propaganda not only among Mexican senators and government members, but also in the authorities of Colombia, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, and has invited state officials of those countries to Baku. Thus, Azerbaijan’s caviar diplomacy is trying to win over countries where there are no Armenians or Armenian lobby. As a result, Colombia has also recognized the Khojaly events as genocide. This is an important issue that we need to be aware of and that we must fight against.

By the way, I would like to note that in some Central American countries there are actually scattered Armenians, including in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Cuba. Pablo Bogossian, a resident of Honduras, has written an article about this. With my cousin, I set up a small publishing house in Mexico called Aip Pen Kim. We have published From Popocatepetl to Ararat on Mexican Armenians (2011), and the other is Spanish translation of Hambardzum Chitjian’s memoirs. This is the first book published in Mexico on the Armenian Genocide. We organized a book presentation, and reviews were published in various Mexican magazines. Thus, we are working to make the Armenian Genocide recognizable at both the public and government levels.

There are now 2,000-2,500 Armenians living in Mexico. Probably a thousand people are descendants of Genocide survivors who came in 1923–1928. The remaining thousand are Armenians from other countries, including Armenia, who have come since 1991. The vast majority of them are people of different professions: scientists, architects, musicians, artists. Today there are 10-15 Armenian specialists in the National University of Mexico – physicists, astronomers, doctors. So it is a new Armenian community with a high level of education. This is sad in some ways because these people have not found a job in Armenia and had to reach Mexico. Sometimes Armenians from other countries are also being settled in Mexico. I would like to mention the name of eminent artist Vatche Geuvdjelian, originally from Addis Ababa, who lives in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán.

Apart from Mexico City, Armenians also live in Tijuana, Puebla and Ensenada. One of the descendants of the Khrimyan Hayrik’s dynasty use to live there, and owns the Ararat restaurant in the city. Many Armenians from Armenia work in the Acapulco, Queretaro and Chihuahua Symphony Orchestras. Some years ago, in one of Mexico’s cities, historian Emanuel Sarkisyanz, who was a professor at Heidelberg University, a person of great intelligence who spoke seven or eight languages, died. He was born in Baku, grew up in Tehran, studied history in Germany and Chicago, and is the author of English work on Transcaucasian history, the Philippines, the Burmese revolution, etc. Today, I can also remember Mexican-Armenian singer-songwriter Sirak Baloyan (whose winery family, by the way, named one of his wines Sirak), film actress Rosa Gloria Chagoyán, whose ancestors came to Mexico in the early 19th century, poet Nelly Keoseyán, former rector of the National University of Mexico, José Sarukhán, whose son was formerly the Mexican ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan, Avetis Aznavuryan, who was also rector of one of the Mexican universities, etc.

With a small group we are now working to develop photos of Mexican-Armenians’ past, trying to identify the identities of the people on photos and publishing a new book on the Armenians of Mexico. We also digitize the film “Armenians in Mexico,” an important documentary in our history.
I came to Armenia for the first time in 2003. At that time, I had my first Armenian lessons. In 2015, as I mentioned at the beginning, I traveled to Western Armenia. In my grandfather’s birthplace in Hoshe, I filmed interviews with local Alevi-Kurds. So far we have spoken to survivors; we should also start interviews with Kurds and Turks who also remember what their grandfathers did to Armenians. By the way, it is a widespread word among the Kurds that when someone gets sad, they tell him: “Do not to stare on me with that Armenian look.” Kurds are well aware of the genocide. When I was in Tunceli and I told a Zaza-Kurd that I am an Armenian who came to find his grandfather’s village, he immediately told me: “Well, I will be your driver, I will serve you for free, because I know what my grandfather has done to you: I have to wipe out my bad karma”… He has been with me for four days, helping me in every way. Hambardzum Chitjian’s book has a map of that region, which also included my family’s, Antaramyans’ home, so I found my ancestral home, or rather what was left of it. One Alevi-Kurd said there was probably some land there that belonged to my grandfather, and if he wanted, he could go to the head of the village and tell them to return the land to me. He said that everything there – the river, the trees, the birds – are all Armenian, and we can go back there. But the question is – will there ever be returnees? Will I go back to that very small village myself… I do not know, it really needs to be thought about…

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