On the 3rd of December 2006, the Ambassador of Lebanon Mr. Massoud Maalouf, at the invitation of Mr. Maciej Bohusewicz, gave a conference on the Armenian community in Lebanon.
After an introduction about Lebanon, its geography and recent history, Ambassador Maalouf spoke about the arrival of the Armenians in Lebanon. Then he underlined the importance of the contribution of the Armenian community in the development of the country in the fields of science, arts, culture and especially in the economic field.
The ambassador also spoke about the Armenian participation in the political life in Lebanon and he gave some examples of prominent Armenian personalities in Lebanon.
In concluding his presentation, Ambassador Maalouf encouraged the Polish Armenian community to establish contacts with the Lebanese Armenian community and he offered the services of the Lebanese Embassy in Warsaw to help in these contacts.
The conference was followed by a questions and answers sessions.
THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY IN LEBANON
Conference delivered by
Ambassador Massoud Maalouf
Warsaw, 3 December 2006
It is a pleasure and an honor for me to be with you today in this beautiful museum, to speak about Lebanon, its civilization and its culture, and about the Armenian community, its importance and its contribution to the development of Lebanon. Your presence today reflects an interest in Lebanon of which I am greatly appreciative. Thank you all for coming. My special thanks go to Mr. Maciej Bohusewicz who organized this event.
The recent events that have taken place in Lebanon unfortunately create a rather negative image of the country which is definitely in a period of transition after a 1975-1990 prolonged civil war which brings to the memory images of explosions and destruction that are still alive in the minds of many people. The period of transition continues today. The current political events overshadow a naturally beautiful, hospitable and historic country whose small size is not at all related to the enormity of the accomplishments it has achieved over time.
In my presentation today, I will try first to uncover to you the true reality of Lebanon with an introduction about the history and geography of the country and then I will speak about the importance of the Armenian presence in that country.
Overview of the History and Geography of Lebanon:
Lebanon is a small country on the Eastern Mediterranean sea. Its area is 10.452 square kilometers, which is more or less equivalent to two thirds of the area of Malo-Polska. Lebanon is in fact located at the juncture of three continents, Asia, Europe and Africa. For centuries, it has been at the crossroads of numerous civilizations. Although small in area, Lebanon is known for the diversity of its geography, landscape, culture and history. The contrasts between the high snow-capped mountains and the arid hills, the cool and dry climate of the interior and the humid heat of the coast, signify the richness of the country. The population of Lebanon is about 3.750.000 inhabitants, with about 12.000.000 of Lebanese origin living abroad.
Lebanon is an ancient country with 7,000 years of recorded history. It has been known as the biblical “land of milk and honey” and its beauty and abundant resources have attracted conquerors and occupiers from earliest times, each leaving behind traces of their enriching civilizations. The numerous archaeological sites throughout the country are witness to this rich and diverse history.
The cedars of Lebanon are famous all over the world. These stately trees are mentioned frequently in the Bible, and throughout the centuries, have been used to build ships and temples, not only for the peoples who lived in ancient Lebanon, but also for the neighboring civilizations. The cedars are now the symbol of Lebanon and the current Lebanese flag features a cedar in its center. It is worth noting that Lebanon’s name is mentioned 76 times in the Bible.
The Phoenicians, who ruled over the Mediterranean Sea with their superior vessels and navigational skills, were early settlers of Lebanon as of the third millenary BC. But the country has also attracted many other civilizations in successive waves. In ancient times, Lebanon was occupied by the Assyrians, and the Hittites coming from the East and was invaded by other armies like the Persians, the Seleucids and the Hyksos and many others over the centuries. It interacted commercially and culturally with the Pharaohs of Egypt. The Greeks then occupied it. The Romans defeated the Greeks and ruled Lebanon for a few centuries. The seventh century witnessed the occupation of Lebanon by the Arabs and since that time, Lebanon has been an integral part of the Arab world. The Ottomans invaded Lebanon from the early 16th century until the end of World War I when Lebanon came under a French mandate. Our Independence from France was achieved on 22 November 1943.
Lebanon is a founding member of the United Nations Organization and the League of Arab States. One of Lebanon’s prominent personalities, Dr. Charles Malek, was one of the main contributors in drafting the Chart of Human Rights of the UN.
Since 1943, Lebanon has experienced periods of stability and prosperity as well as periods of conflict and civil war. And since we cannot fully comprehend today’s Lebanon without taking into consideration developments since 1943, I will speak now very briefly about our recent history.
Since independence in 1943, Lebanon has been the victim of the situation in Palestine on its southern border. In fact, the state of Israel was established in 1948 after expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, many of whom took refuge in Lebanon. The Arab states bordering Israel (Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) signed armistice agreements with the Jewish state in 1949 and since that time, we have been trying, so far without success, to find a just solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees. Although Lebanon did not participate in the three wars that took place between Arab bordering states and Israel in 1956, 1967 and 1973, Israel did not stop attacking Lebanon during all these years, under the pretext of retaliating against Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who were trying to reclaim their lost properties in Israel. The internal situation in Lebanon combined with the regional circumstances and the East-West competition at the time led to a devastating civil war that started in 1975 and ended in 1990. This difficult situation was aggravated by Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon in 1978, followed by the invasion of half of the country and the siege of Beirut in 1982.
Under international pressure, Israel was forced to withdraw from parts of Lebanon in 1985 but it maintained its occupation of the southern Lebanon which equaled about 10% of the country. Then the military resistance to this Israeli occupation forced Israel to withdraw from most of Lebanon in May 2000. The more than estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees who reside in Lebanon continue to have a significant political, economic and demographic impact on Lebanon. Lebanon continues to support the need for a Palestinian state to which the Palestinians can return to live.
Before the civil war began in 1975, Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Middle East, a magnet for tourists and commerce. It also was the financial center for the Middle-East. But as you know, a country at war can attract neither tourists nor investments and therefore our economy suffered the consequences. This situation was aggravated by the Israeli occupation of the South. With the civil war ending in October 1989 by an agreement signed by all the factions, Lebanon has started rebuilding its infrastructure and reconstituting its institutions. With amazing speed, Lebanon was able to regain its role in the area and most of the reconstruction projects were finalized in record time. Tourism was also prospering and record numbers of tourists with most of the hotels reserved at full capacity were anticipated this last summer.
However, on the 12th of July, Israeli military aircraft started their 33 barrage of barbaric attacks on the Lebanese infrastructure, destroying bridges, highways and power plants and killing around 1200 citizens, most of them civilians and around 400 of them being children below the age of 12. Beirut International Airport and the ports were heavily damaged, as well as schools and hospitals. Israel’s attacks on Lebanon were reputed to be in response to a border military incident involving the capture of two Israeli soldiers. However, the magnitude of Israeli destruction in Lebanon caused an international outcry highlighting the disproportionality of the Israeli military response in relation to the border incident. In addition, Israel’s use of banned weapons and the thousands of cluster bombs that Israel scattered throughout southern Lebanon result to this day in daily deaths of individuals trying to pursue their agricultural livelihood.
Since the 14 February 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon has experienced considerable political unrest in part due to the continuing assassinations of selected prominent political figures, the latest being the assassination of the 34 year old Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel. But as it has overcome previous difficulties and tragedies during its long history, Lebanon will once again overcome this difficult period and move toward a bright and promising future.
It is important to know that Lebanon is a parliamentary republic. Our parliament is elected by citizens who are at least 21 years. Women have had the right to vote in Lebanon since 1952. The 128 members of the Parliament are elected for a period of 4 years and the parliament elects a President of the Republic whose mandate is 6 years non renewable. A total of 18 Moslem and Christian religious sects are officially recognized by the constitution. Therefore, there is a delicate balance of power whereby seats at the Parliament and the Cabinet as well as high level posts of the administration are equally divided between Christians and Moslems. According to a National Pact adopted in 1943 on the eve of our independence, the President of the Republic is a Christian Maronite, the Speaker of the Parliament is a Shiite Moslem and the Prime Minister is a Sunni Moslem. This confessional equilibrium prevails only in the public sector while the private sector is completely free of any religious power sharing.
The Lebanese Economy
Lebanon is and has always been a free market economy. The per capita income is about 5,000 US dollars. Private property has always been respected and protected. Lebanon does not have huge natural resources and our economy is not based on heavy industry. Let us see how the three sectors, Agriculture, Industry and Services contribute to our GDP which totals around 20 billion US dollars.
Agriculture constitutes around 12% of our GDP. Lebanon being a country of high mountains and deep valleys, the arable land does not exceed 20% of our territory. The most important agricultural products of Lebanon are: citrus fruits, grapes, tomatoes, apples, a variety of vegetables, potatoes and olives. Lebanon also produces tobacco. Herds of sheep and goats are also raised in Lebanon. Lebanese wine has received many international awards and is known in many countries, including the United States and France.
The contribution of Industry to the Lebanese GDP reaches around 21%. As I mentioned earlier, Lebanon does not rely on heavy industry but only on light industry. Our main industrial products are: cement, jewelry, textiles, chemical products, furniture products and oil refining. Lebanon is also a producer of a variety of agro-industrial products like canned food, olive oil, chocolate etc… I would like to mention here that Patchi, a Lebanese chocolate, is sold in Poland. The company that imports it has already two outlets in Warsaw and is considering expansion opportunities in Poland.
Services are the major sector in the Lebanese economy. This sector constitutes around 67% of our GDP. Lebanon is known for the quality of the services that it provides to the consumers, the main services being banking, international trade, and tourism.
The banking system in Lebanon is known to be one of the best in the world. It is strong, reliable, well developed, efficient and customer friendly. There are around 85 banks in this small country, each one having numerous branches throughout Lebanon. Since Lebanon has no currency restrictions, customers can open accounts in the bank and currency of their choice. The only limitations on international transactions are those imposed by international organizations in order to control money laundering and drug money. Other than that, you can transfer in and out of Lebanon any amount in any currency to and from any country in the world, no questions asked.
Another reason Lebanon can attract funds to its banking system is the bank secrecy which was established by law since 1956. In compliance with this law, banks are not allowed to disclose information about the accounts of their customers to any person or any entity, including the government itself. Nobody can know whether a person has an account in this bank or that one or how much funds somebody has in his accounts. The only exception to this rule is when there is a judgment by a tribunal in a criminal case. Otherwise, no information can be given on any account. This law relating to bank secrecy, together with a very low tax rate on interest gained from deposits in Lebanese banks has attracted a big amount of funds to be deposited in our banks. That is why banking is an important item in our services sector.
The other important item in the services sector of our economy is international trade. Since ancient times, Lebanese have been known to be traders. The Phoenicians, with their navigation skills, roamed the Mediterranean area and opened commercial centers on the shores of North Africa and Southern Europe selling their goods and buying the products of the local population. Until now, trade is one of the national characters and traits of our people. One aspect of trade that is well known in Lebanon is the “triangular trade”. This means that a businessman in Lebanon via fax or the internet buys a product in one country and sells it to another country without having to bring the merchandise to Lebanon. He tries to find out what a certain importer needs in one country and he gets it for him from an exporter in another country and he takes a commission on this transaction.
Another important item in the services sector is Tourism. Since the end of the civil war in Lebanon in 1990, our government and the private sector have been very active in reconstructing the tourist infrastructure, including hotels, restaurants, summer resorts etc… that were damaged during the war. Tourism has long been a major source of income for our economy. In Lebanon, tourism takes the form of not only sightseeing, but sports, religious, archeological, business and medical tourism:
– Sightseeing tourism: Lebanon is a beautiful country with high mountains covered with snow most of the year. Our highest peak reaches 3088 meters. We also have deep and gorgeous valleys with rivers that flow from the mountains down to the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon also enjoys a nice and moderate climate with 4 seasons of the year. Summers are hot and humid on the coast but dry and cool in the mountains. Visitors who come to Lebanon are always taken by the splendor of the landscape.
– Sports Tourism: In Lebanon, different kinds of sport are practiced all year round. Modern ski stations attract ski lovers in winter and the blue sea on the coast receives hundreds of thousands of swimmers in the summer period. All kinds of international sport competitions take place in Lebanon. In February and March, people can ski in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon of the same day.
– Religious Tourism: In Lebanon, there are many pilgrimage destinations for Christians as well as for Muslims. Many of you might not know that Jesus Christ made many miracles between the two cities of Tyre and Sidon in South Lebanon, the first of them being the transformation of water into wine in the city of Kana. Monasteries and churches attract every year a great number of tourists from many parts of the world.
– Archeological Tourism: Archeological sites in Lebanon constitute an important attraction for thousands of tourists. Cities like Byblos, considered the oldest city with continuous recorded history in the world, or Baalbeck known as Heliopolis during the time of the Romans, or Tyre and Sidon are destinations for many people who study history and archeology. These historic sites offer a display of traces of past civilizations that have ruled Lebanon in ancient times.
– Business Tourism: Lebanon is also a destination for thousands of international businessmen who fill our five stars hotels. Business opportunities are vast and are facilitated by the business climate that prevails in Lebanon.
– Medical Tourism: Thanks to a network of modern hospitals and a high level of medical expertise, Lebanon is becoming a destination for treating patients from different countries of the Middle-East .
These were in brief the most important features of our economy. I would like to add that Lebanon is an open and free country and Lebanese businessmen can establish trade and economic relations with their counterparts anywhere in the world. The role of the government is limited to concluding economic agreements with other countries in order to provide for the Lebanese nationals a framework for their commercial activities. It is in this framework that the Association Agreement between Lebanon and the European Union was signed in June 2002. In accordance with this agreement, products can flow freely between Lebanon and the countries of the European Union. Thus Poland is in an advantageous position to increase its international trade prospects given this Association Agreement since Poland became a member of the EU in May 2004. Some 45% of Lebanese imports come from EU countries while 27% of Lebanese exports go to EU countries.
The Civilization and Cultural Life of Lebanon
In this section I will address the contribution of our people to civilization during ancient times and mention some of the more recent achievements of people of Lebanese origin in different fields.
1: In ancient history, the Phoenicians were instrumental in developing navigational skills that allowed them at the time to reach areas far away from their bases. They spread throughout the Mediterranean region a business mentality based on exchanges of ideas and products, thus forging understandings among different peoples and civilizations. But the Phoenicians will mostly be remembered as the people who developed the alphabet and taught it to the peoples of the Mediterranean. History has it that the Phoenician teacher Kadmus came from the shores of Phoenicia to Greece where he taught the new alphabet which was then spread to most areas of the Mediterranean, and was the precursor for the current alphabet we use today.
The Phoenicians are also known for having discovered the scarlet color derived from a sea shell known as the “murex”.
The Phoenicians also invented transparent glass.
These new products, textiles dyed in scarlet color and transparent glass, were in great demand in the old world and allowed the Phoenicians to achieve remarkable prosperity.
Also in the ancient times, and during the Roman period, Beirut was home to the first school of law in the region. Eminent rulers and scholars studied in this prominent school. Unfortunately, a strong earthquake that hit Lebanon in the year 555 destroyed this famous school which was never rebuilt.
2: In modern times, Lebanon’s contribution to culture, medicine, arts and literature has also been remarkable. Except during the period of the civil war, life in modern Lebanon was always marked by intense cultural activities, making Beirut a cultural centre of the Middle-East.
Time does not allow us now to review all the contributions of Lebanese personalities but I will briefly mention Gibran Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese writer, poet, philosopher and artist who lived in Lebanon and the United States in the early twentieth century. Of the many books that he published, The Prophet is the most known. It has been translated into more than 30 languages, including Polish. In 1991, a square was inaugurated in Washington, D.C. by President George Bush, father of the current president in memory of Gibran. Gibran’s biography will be published in Polish some time next year.
Amin Maalouf is also a world known writer who lives in France since 1976 and writes in French. His books have been translated into many languages including Polish and he has received the highest French award in literature.
2: In Medicine
– Dr. Michael Debakey, who comes originally from South Lebanon and who lives now in the United States, is internationally recognized as the most famous heart surgeon in the world. He is known for his innovations in open-heart surgery and for his pioneering work in the field of telemedicine. In the early 90s, when the Russian President Boris Yeltsin had a heart problem, Dr. Debakey was called to perform a surgical intervention on the Russian President.
– Dr. Ma Haide who died in 1988 was the private physician of Chairman Mao Tse Tung. He is known for his contribution in research on occupational medicine and leprosy. His original name was George Hatem. Dr. Ma Haide joined the Chinese revolution in 1939 and participated with Mao in the Great Walk that led to establishing the communist regime in China in the year 1949.
3: In Politics:
Out of the millions of people of Lebanese origin who live on the five continents, thousands of them have occupied high level political posts. In Brazil for instance, where we have 8 million people of Lebanese origin, many have been elected governors or members of congress. The same holds true for similar institutions in the US, Canada, Australia and throughout Latin America. I will mention only a few of these prominent personalities:
– Julio Cesar Turbay, was President of Colombia from the year 1978 until 1982. He died in 2005.
– Ralph Nader is the most prominent consumer advocate in the United States and two times a presidential candidate. His last candidature was in November 2004.
There are many other famous Lebanese citizens in the fields of music, arts, politics, literature, etc… but time does not allow us to mention them all in this conference.
After this overview of the history and geography of Lebanon, I will now speak about the Armenians in Lebanon and their contribution to the development of our country.
The Armenian presence in Lebanon
The mere fact that we are meeting today to talk and discuss about the Armenians in Lebanon shows the importance of that community in the Lebanese society. Why do so many Armenians live in Lebanon and what brought them to our country?? What is the role that they play now in the political, economic, cultural and social life of Lebanon??
Let us first explore why and how the Armenians came to Lebanon and then we will speak about their importance in the Lebanese society.
The contacts between Armenians and Lebanon have started centuries ago. Tigran the Great conquered Lebanon from the Seleucids for a very short period of time and included it in the short lived Armenian Empire. Later on, many Armenians who were part of the Roman troops after the Roman occupation of Armenia were sent to Lebanon. And throughout history, Armenians transited Lebanon on their visits to the Holy Land and quite a number of them had then decided to settle in that country.
But the arrival of Armenians in Lebanon in great numbers began with the tragedy of 1915. Since that date, we notice that Armenians came to Lebanon in 4 major periods:
First wave: This first wave started after 1915 with thousands of Armenians fleeing attacks of the Turkish army. It is mostly in 1918-1921, when France agreed to put the area of Cilicia under Turkish control that Armenians in great numbers escaped from that area fearing further attacks and killings by the Turks.
Second wave: In 1939, the “Sandjack of Alexandretta” which was part of the Syrian territory was given to Turkey. Remembering their past experience with the Turks, great numbers of the Armenians residing in Alexandretta fled to Lebanon and settled in the city of Anjar, near the Lebanese-Syrian border. That city became, later on, a purely Armenian city.
Third wave: The third wave of Armenians arriving in Lebanon took place in the year 1948, when the state of Israel was created and thousands of Palestinians, including Armenians living in Palestine, were forced to flee to Lebanon.
Fourth wave:The fourth time Armenians came to Lebanon in great numbers was in the early 1960s, moving from Syria to Lebanon when Syria united with Egypt, adopted a socialist regime and nationalized private property.
These waves of Armenian emigration to Lebanon brought the numbers of Armenians to around 250,000 at the eve of the Lebanese civil war which started in 1975, out of a total population of less than 4 million.
Although many Armenians settled in Syria and other places, why did so many Armenians choose to settle in Lebanon.
One explanation lies in the fact that Lebanon has historically been a country open to refugees from other parts of the world. The atmosphere of religious freedom and the fact that more than half of the Lebanese population was Christian at that time encouraged many Armenians to come to our country. Another reason is the proximity of Lebanon to Armenia. Many of the first refugees were hoping to return to their country once the troubles ended and they did not want to settle in places far away from the homeland.
Thanks to the Treaty of Lausanne which put an end to the hostilities between the Allies and Turkey, Armenians were allowed to get the citizenship of the countries in which they had taken refuge. So in 1924, thousands of Armenians became Lebanese citizens, although they always hoped to return to their country of origin. The census of 1932 showed that after the first wave of arrivals, there were around 30,000 Armenians in Lebanon holding the Lebanese citizenship.
After speaking about the reasons of the massive Armenian presence in Lebanon, I will now speak about the importance of the Armenians in the Lebanese society.
Let me first say that the golden age of the Armenians in Lebanon, in numbers and in importance, was during the period from 1955 until 1975. Armenians living in Lebanon were quickly integrated in the Lebanese society while preserving and developing their traditions and their language. In other words, the Lebanese-Armenians are Lebanese citizens enjoying all the rights of their fellow citizens while at the same time distinguishing themselves by their religion, their language and their traditions…and their identity. It is worth noting that the Lebanese political system helped the Armenians participate in the political life of the country without having to fight for their rights, since the constitution of our country, as I mentioned in the first part of this presentation, provides for a power sharing among all the religious communities that compose the Lebanese society. So the Armenians were able to share in the power, like any other community, in proportion to their number.
It is important to know that the Armenians, while keeping their identity, are an integral part of the Lebanese society in all its political, religious, economic, cultural and social aspects.
In the political field, the Armenians have 3 major political parties: Dashnak, Hunchak and Ramkavar. Smaller political groups also exist. The Dashnak is the party that represents almost 3 quarters of the Armenians in Lebanon.
The Armenians are also represented in the Lebanese Parliament with 6 members out of a total of 128. Since the Apostolics are the majority of the Lebanese Armenians and since the representation of each community is proportional to its number, 5 out of these 6 parliamentary seats are occupied by that community while the sixth goes to a Catholic.
There are also at least one or two Armenians in the Cabinet, depending on the number of Ministers in each cabinet. So it is well known that the Armenians participate fully in the political life of Lebanon.
In the religious field, it is worth noting that the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate was founded in 1741 in the village of Bzummar, at a time when the size of the Armenian community was very limited, and the majority of them were Catholics.This Patriarchate played an important role during the rule of Emir Bechir II, one of the most famous leaders of Lebanon under the Ottoman Empire.
In 1930, the Armenian Catholicossate was established in Antelias and it quickly became a symbol for all the Armenians of Lebanon and the Diaspora. Antelias is now the place where the most important decisions concerning the Armenians of the Diaspora are made. Antelias could be called the Capital of the Armenian Diaspora.
It is a fact that the majority of the Armenians in Lebanon belong to the Apostolic faith while the Catholics are much less numerous. The Armenian Evangelicals do not have their own church but they worship together with other Lebanese Evangelicals.
In the economic field: It is impressive to see that the Armenian refugees who came to Lebanon completely dispossessed and arriving in a foreign land the language of which they did not even understand, quickly integrated in the society and with their hard work and their dedication, were able in a short period of time to overcome the poverty and to become an important player in the economic life of the country. The Lebanese-Armenians are known to be industrious, hardworking and educated people. They have won the respect of all the Lebanese and they have actively participated in the development and the construction of the country. Lebanon is proud to have such a prominent and respectable component of its society.
In the educational and cultural fields: The Armenian community in Lebanon has enormously enriched the cultural life in Lebanon. The Armenian schools, teaching the Armenian language and preserving the Armenian traditions are very active in every city where there is an Armenian presence. It is very rare to meet a Lebanese-Armenian who does not speak Armenian. At home, the spoken language is traditionally Armenian, and although the Armenian schools follow the Lebanese Government curriculum, the teaching of Armenian is almost compulsory.
The Armenian schools in Lebanon belong to the various Armenian organizations, and mostly to the Apostolic, Catholic or Evangelical churches. But a most important educational Armenian institution in Lebanon is the Haigazian University, known for its educational level and for the academic journals it publishes. I am not aware of any other country outside the Republic of Armenia that has a purely Armenian university.
To support the teachings of the schools and to keep the community aware of all the political developments, newspapers and periodicals are published in Armenian. The most important of those periodicals are: “Azdak” published by the Dashnak party since 1927, the “Zartonk” belonging to the Ramkavar since 1937 and “Ararat” which started as a daily and now has become a weekly published by the Hunchak party since 1937.
Most Lebanese radio and TV stations broadcast programs in Armenian addressing the most important issues of interest to the community.
It is also very important to mention the instrumental contribution of the Armenian community to the cultural life of Lebanon through the creative and famous productions in the world of theatre, painting, sculpture and music.
Let me now say a few words about the most famous Armenians in Lebanon:
After a civil war that took place in Lebanon in 1860 and the massacre of many Christians by the Druze, the European powers imposed on the Ottoman Empire to let Lebanon enjoy a certain autonomy and to name a governor for the country, known as a Mutassarrif, who should be a non Lebanese Catholic, but an Ottoman subject. It is interesting to note that the first and the last governors who ruled Lebanon under this compromise were both Armenian. The first Mutassarrif was Garabed Artin Daoud Pacha (1861-1868). The last one was Ohannes Kouyoumdjian Pacha (1912-1915). Let me say between brackets here that one of those Mutassarrifs was a Polish named Alexander Czajkowski who was appointed in 1902 and took the name of Muzaffar Pacha.
Armenian personalities in the current times include a prominent former minister and member of the Lebanese Parliament the late Khatchig Babikian, a pianist composer Mr. Guy Manoukian, a comedian, Mr. Pierre Shammassian, a politician, Mr. Karim Pakradouni, a very famous painter, Hrair, and a talk show host, Mr. Zaven Kouyoumdjian, and tens of others in different walks of life. General Emile Lahoud, the current President of the Republic of Lebanon, has an Armenian mother, an Armenian wife and he speaks Armenian fluently.
It should be interesting for you to know that the Lebanese Parliament has recognized the Armenian Genocide twice, first on 3 April 1997, and again on 11 May 2000. And thanks to the excellent relations that Lebanon maintains with Turkey, the Turkish reaction to this recognition of the Genocide was very mild, and now Turkey is participating in the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, despite the protests of the Armenian community in Lebanon.
I would like to conclude this presentation with a question: what is the future of the Armenian community in Lebanon?
I said earlier that the golden age of the community was in the period from 1955 to 1975. In fact, the civil war that started in 1975 and lasted until 1989 has forced hundreds of Lebanese citizens, Lebanese-Armenians included, to emigrate to North America or to Australia and to some European countries. Now, a vibrant Armenian community lives in California and it got quickly integrated in the American society. The political and economic problems that came after the civil war forced many others to find a new life in other countries, and the Armenian community in Lebanon is now estimated at around 120,000. The mixed marriages between Armenians and Lebanese, and the increasing integration of the community in the Lebanese society are all elements that justify this question. Does this mean that the Armenian community will one day melt in the Lebanese society and disappear? I definitely do not think so. The Armenians are known to be a community that distinguishes itself by preserving its traditions and its language. Although the schools have diminished in numbers due to the loss of almost half of the community through emigration since 1975, they will continue to teach the Armenian language. The churches will always celebrate the Armenian holidays.Some important days, like San Wartan, have become official Lebanese holidays. Lebanon also celebrates officially the Armenian Christmas on the 6th of January which has become an official holiday in Lebanon, just as the 25th of December is an official holiday.
So we can say in conclusion, and in full confidence, that the Armenian community in Lebanon is a well respected and admired community. In spite of the emigration and in spite of the integration within the Lebanese society, it will always be a distinguished community, working in harmony with other communities for the well being of Lebanon, and keeping strong ties with the Republic of Armenia, thus forming a bridge between the two countries. I hope that the Armenians of Poland can build strong relations with the Armenians of Lebanon and promote excellent relations between Poland and Lebanon. I am ready, through our Embassy in Warsaw, to do whatever I can in this respect and I am proud to say that I have many Lebanese and Polish friends of Armenian origin.