From left, Hasmig Karayan, Talene Hachikian, Mihran Toumajan, Alik Artinian, Sevan Boghos-Deirbadrossian, Diana Alexanian, Hratch Sepetjian and Carl Bardakian (photo Karine Armen)

ALTADENA, Calif. — An informative lecture on the immigration history of the Damascus Armenians and the Armenian refugee camps there was organized by Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) Metro Los Angeles chapter on Sunday, January 28 at the TCA Beshgeturian Center. The keynote speaker was Sevan Boghos-Deirbadrossian, vice chair of the TCA Metro Los Angeles chapter.

Keynote speaker Sevan Boghos-Deirbadrossian (photo Karine Armen)

Master of ceremonies Hratch Sepetjian first invited University of California, Los Angeles student Alik Artinian to recite three prose-poems written in Armenian by Boghos-Deirbadrossian which are dedicated to her birthplace of Damascus. They were entitled “Observation,” “Return,” and “The Travelers Have Returned.”

Sepetjian then introduced Boghos-Deirbadrossian. She was born in Damascus, Syria, graduated from the Holy Translators School there, and then studied the English language at the University of Damascus. She taught English language for eight years at her alma mater, Holy Translators School.

Sevan is married to Hovig Deirbadrossian and have two children, Bedros and Nanor. The Deirbadrossian family immigrated to the United States and settled in Los Angeles from Damascus. Through correspondence, Sevan earned a master’s degree in Armenian Language from the Institute of Foreign Languages in France. She has been teaching Armenian Language and Literature for twenty years at the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian secondary school in Canoga Park, California.

Boghos-Deirbadrossian used slides of maps and pictures throughout her presentation. She said that practically since the beginning of time, Damascus has been a gateway for pilgrims heading to the Holy City of Jerusalem. She then divided the immigration history of Damascus Armenians into two phases: phase I, prior Christ (the era of Dikran the Great) to the 19th century, and phase II, from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century.

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Concerning the first phase, Boghos-Deirbadrossian enumerated the different foreign invasions of the Armenian homeland which caused the immigration of Armenians to Damascus, among other cities. These included the Arabian invasion (700-868), the Persian invasion and the Byzantine invasion.

Phase II comprises the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 by the Turks. One million and a half Armenians were systematically annihilated and the rest were driven to the neighboring hospitable Arab countries, including the cities of Aleppo and Damascus in Syria.

Boghos-Deirbadrossian spent some time describing the Armenian refugee camps in Damascus from the 1920s. These camps provided shelter to the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and helped them develop the future Armenian communities there.

The al-Kadam Camp had a short life, as it was outside the Damascus city walls. A group of Armenian refugees found shelter in an old, abandoned Ottoman Army barracks near the al-Kadam train station.

Camp Dikran was also called Camp “Bab Sharki,” or the Eastern Gate, and it was located south of the city of Damascus. The refugees here initially erected tents and other temporary structures made of tin. But soon, they began building more permanent structures, with financial loans from the Nansen Office.

The Khcheri Camp was named after a refugee from Cilicia called Khcher Geondjian, who rented land from an Arab, built huts on that land and rented them out to Armenians, making a small profit. The local Arab population simply called it the “Armenian Camp.”

Boghos-Deirbadrossian presented many statistics, including the fact that the Armenian Apostolic St. Sarkis Church was built during 1438-1445; the Armenian Catholic Church was built in 1826; the Armenian Evangelical Church was built in 1922. She noted that in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, there were about 100,000 Armenians in Syria and another 80,000 Armenians in Lebanon, while currently, there are about 5,000 Armenians left Damascus.

At the end of the presentation, master of ceremonies Sepetjian read a letter of blessings and appreciation sent by Bishop Armash Nalbandian, the current Primate of the Diocese of Damascus.

From left, Hasmig Karayan, Sevan Boghos-Deirbadrossian and Talene Hachikian of the TCA Metro Los Angeles chapter (photo Karine Armen)

Bishop Nalbandian first congratulated the TCA Metro Los Angeles chapter for organizing such an important research-based lecture and then extended his appreciation to native Damascene Boghos-Deirbadrossian for undertaking such a difficult task, which has not been previously dealt with in detail and is essential for the understanding of the development of the Armenian community in Damascus. Such research, he added, needs to be conducted for every Armenian community in the Middle East.

Notable among the attendees of the lecture was Diana Alexanian of Michigan, chair of the TCA Detroit chapter.

Upon the conclusion of the lecture, Sepetjian invited the guests to a delicious dinner buffet reception.

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