Jack Kalpakian

Jack Vahram Kalpakian: A Sudanese-Armenian Professor from Morocco


YEREVAN/IFRANE, Morocco — My research of history of Armenians in Africa led to finding interesting compatriots from various African states. One of them is Dr. Jack Vahram Kalpakian, an associate professor of International Studies at School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. Born in Sudan and a naturalized United States citizen, Kalpakian completed his undergraduate degree at Santa Clara University in California. He holds a doctorate in international studies from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va. He specializes in security studies, international political economy and the Middle East/North Africa region. Kalpakian is the author of academic papers in English and Arabic, covering the issues of terrorism, international security, international political economy, water issues, North Africa, Middle East, and East Africa.

Jack, let’s first discuss some issues related to your profession. How advanced is international studies as an academic field in Morocco and does it have any impact on politics?

International relations is traditionally taught here as a branch of law, not necessarily a social science. It has been a branch of law, and the approach was very French, but Akhawayn University in Ifrane strove to offer International relations as a social science in order to expand the number of people who are engaged in international affairs in the country. The aim of the discipline is not political but rather oriented towards internationalization.

 With the UN’s establishment, humankind was thinking that its dream of global security will become reality. Yet many wars followed, and now the international situation is far from being secure, especially in our region. Does mankind need another approach to avoid new big wars and finally reach international security?

The threats of disease, famine, climate change and extremism are not to be trifled with. The fundamental obstacle to solutions is that the US, China, and Russia tend to view each other’s existence as a problem. It is very difficult for the likes of Victoria Nuland, her husband and her ultimate boss, Biden, to wrap their head around the idea that they have bigger problems than Putin.

Two years ago, I read Tigran Yegavian’s interesting analytical research, Minorities of Orient, where the author shows the uncertain future of non-Muslim population of Middle East. How is the situation in the countries of Maghreb?

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The Amazigh (Berbers) are not a minority in any sense of the word in any four Maghrebian states. They are very well integrated and may in reality be the majority community in all four main states, where language separated from the issue. The Jewish community has disappeared save for Tunisia and Morocco and even then, the numbers are very small.

Do you follow the situation in Armenia and what do you think about current developments?

Yes, I do. I view the current developments as the logical outcome of external intervention in Armenian affairs, which sadly began during the Cold War with now acknowledged intervention in Church affairs.

How did the Kalpakian family end up in Sudan?

Through Egypt. My grandfather’s cousin, Philip Kalpakian from Arabkir, had arrived long before the genocide, in 1906 and sent agents to retrieve the survivors. By the 1930s, he had found his cousin in Cairo living as a refugee, and he migrated to Sudan.

How was it to grow up as an Armenian in Sudan?

Not easy. While there is a lot of good to say about the Sudanese people, there are plenty of religious fanatics among them and some of these went as far as to stone my sister and I while we played in my father’s truck in our birthplace Gedarif. My sister was injured and had a scar on her forehead… she was barely five. My parents moved to Khartoum largely due to this incident.

Now you live in Morocco, a country where there was a small Armenian community from 1920 to the 1980s. What about now?

There is or was an Ararat House in Casablanca, and its people called me; it is a private home owned by a French-Armenian family. They open their home once a month to all Armenians. But I live and work in a place that is far from Casablanca. There is a merchant in Marrakech called Johnny Chatarjian. He is married to a Moroccan woman and they have kids, and typically. Beyond that, it is very much like me, isolated individuals. I speak Western Armenian with my daughter. She speaks Flemish with her mother. Now there is a member of the Bulbulian Family who was close to me. French Armenians used to come here very often, especially Genocide survivors because the terrain looks a lot like Western Armenia.

One of your favorite quotes is “We exist, we will continue to exist and we will multiply” by Barouyr Sevak. But how? In Armenia and Diaspora many have few children due to various motivations, unlike our neighbors whose number is increasing drastically.

Have they “increased drastically?” Turkey’s demographics are imperiled. Azerbaijan’s numbers are suspect. The key is to set up colonies in safe states and concentrate people in them. Glendale is not the solution ultimately because of the forces of assimilation. Armenians should look at models like Kiryat Joel, NY (now Palm Tree, New York) but on a more expansive basis. There are plenty of counties emptying in the Midwest in the US, and these are ripe for colonization with Armenian communities, farms, and towns. There is nothing in United States law that prevents Armenian Americans from helping themselves to these areas. Add a private safety net, religious motivation, and the legal use of tax revenue in the service of the community, the prospects are great.

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