Bourj Hammoud; Safe haven for the survivors of the Armenian Genocide

Disclaimer: “Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia.” William Saroyan

Today we mourn the death of 1.5 million Armenians, 950,000 Greeks and 750,000 Assyrians under the directives of the Ottoman Empire rulers. This extermination policy led Armenians to flee (warned by their Kurdish neighbors) to neighboring countries in what is known as the death march. Many settled in Der el-Zor (Syria) and more reached the coastal city of Beirut (Lebanon).

You can read my blog post on on the centennial commemoration of the Genocide by clicking on the link below; https://patylsperspective.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/the-story-of-an-armenian-genocide-survivor-my-grandmother/ 

Today I wanted to share with you all a glimpse of the safe haven Armenians built in Beirut city known as Little Armenia to some and Bourj Hammoud to most of you. This neighborhood, built out of a swamp, turned into an industrial and residential area for Armenians and other ethnic minorities over the years.

This past month I have visited Bourj Hammoud more than I have in the two decades I have lived in Lebanon. Many errands kept me going back and forth but it is mostly the genuine, cozy interaction with its residents, the real-feel of intimacy from its narrow streets and that old/vintage vibe that kept me going up to more than three times a week.

The infrastructure of Bourj Hammoud is an interesting one. Unlike its neighboring district, houses are built three/four stories high and the buildings stack up one next to the other each being polished its own unique way. The survivors of the first genocide of the 20th century did not despair about their fate. They took matters into their own hand and started building their future in this welcoming unknown territory. Most of them got employed just so to put aside some money in order to feed their families and eventually open their own businesses.

When strolling through the streets of B.Hammoud you will instantly notice that Armenians are handymen i-e they excel in the craft of art. They are known to be famous jewelers hence the stretch of jewelry shops on its main road. Furthermore when you enter the streets parallel to the famous Arax street, you will come to notice small shops selling dried food, spices and unimaginable artifacts (sometimes all sold under one roof).

The streets are narrow and permit one car to pass through (very slowly). Pedestrians walk in the middle of the road as well as on the pavement when permitted since most items from shops overflow onto the pavement. Although it is a busy street, you do not feel overwhelmed. People are lively, interactive and very much happy. If you have not heard Armenian before, be prepared to be drawn by its hubbub. Clothing shops tend to compete with each other and if you look closely you will notice that most of them sell to an extend the same products. I don’t know what you have heard but it is not easy to bargain with an Armenian. But you will most probably have heard before (and many times) that they are the most honest businessmen and their work speaks for itself.

How many of you have gone out of your way to buy in bulk from an Armenian vendor in Bourj Hammoud?

How many of you go first to an Armenian jeweler for an honest opinion about the price of a stone?

How many of you fashion designers have settled a deal with an Armenian clothing manufacturer to produce your collection pieces?

and again I’m going to ask you

How many of you swear by the work of Sako, Ara and Garo?

There you got it.

We might have been persecuted a century ago. We might have fled our home country. We might have spread worldwide. But we maintained our integrity, our faith and our trust in God that no matter where and no matter the circumstances we are going to remain and fight against all odds thrown our way.

I encourage you to visit Bourj Hammoud, take unique pictures, mingle with its residents and have a bite of some delicious Armenian food.

Trust me, the experience is one of a kind.

 

 

 

When the past catches up the present; The KhanAmirian X Mukhi story.

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My father was a man of many values. He was upfront and direct with people and cherished honesty and respect. He was a person who had an eye for everything beautiful. He used to tell me ‘I love Beautiful things because beauty is nice to look at and soothes the eye”.

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Two of his biggest passion were watches & jewelry. I used to accompany him every year religiously to the annual Jewelry fair at the Beirut Waterfront (BIEL) and walk up and down the aisles looking at the latest creations of renown jewelers. To my surprise he used to know the lot of them as he was friends with many of the patriarchs of the households exhibiting. He used to have an eye for specially carved pieces and on many occasion splurge me with a gift. Shockingly enough at that time, I was not your typical “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” kinda girl. But I cannot say I did not learn a lot from him about the world of jewelry.

I believe in signs. Do you? Sometimes we might be at crossroads, undecided and over the course of the day something happens, a sign pops & guides us towards which road to take or decision to make.

Saturday was a very normal day for me, unaware that the night will tumble my thoughts upside down.

I was out & about in downtown so I decided to visit my dear friends Meena and Maya Mukhi, my jewelers “de réference”, who recently opened their flagship store in downtown Beirut (behind the Municipality of Beirut). The Mukhi Sisters, flagship store is the fruit of three sisters,Maya, Meena & Zeenat, who a decade ago (2009 to be precise) came together to follow the footstep of their grandfather.

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The latter relocated his family in Lebanon so as to expand his jewelry business in the Middle East and Northern African provinces. An ambitious father/grandfather figure who seized the opportunity to expand on foreign soil facing a clash of civilization that his children overcame and integrated fully while falling in love with the city and its people. The fruit of this relocation led to the union of two important families of jewelers into one. Mister Chandru Mukhi, first of his generation married Miss Effat Kreidiyeh in 1979 and brought to the world three beautiful, ambitious daughters/sisters that inherited their love for jewelry and crafted this store in the heart of their hometown, Beirut. A step they dedicated to their role model, the men they are all thankful for and a legacy they are imprinting not only in the history of the Mukhi family but of their country.

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1920s is a special year for two families. The Mukhi’s stepped into the shores of Lebanon while my father was born, making him the first generation of KhanAmirian to come to life.

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Flash Forward to 2017.

On Saturday night I decided to take my jewelries out and look at what my father left me. I came to love each piece and wear them proudly at any given outings. My eyes caught a box nestled deep in my drawer. I was intrigued as I had never gone that deep. I opened it and at first didn’t know what I was looking at. A pendant, I noticed after untangling it, paired with clip-on earrings. I remembered my dad opening this same box once years ago, showing me its content and doing the sign that always warmed my heart. You know that sign you do when something is beautiful to your eye. I call it the picture perfect sign. My father never bought anything out of obligation. He bought beautiful things as he loves beauty. Then it hit me. The name on the box was none other than Ashoka. A name I had heard only a few days before as Meena was narrating me about her family’s history and her father’s shop in Hamra, Ashoka.

I was dumbfounded. My father had actually met Chandru Mukhi and bought a piece of art from his store. I shared my founding with Meena. She in return shared it with her family. Everyone reminisced at his own pace. What were the odds? The previous generation had already established connection while we, the future, were strengthening ours.

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I believe in signs, in faith, in whatever you want to label it. I believe in that. We say each generation to its own. However, some generation’s bond is stronger than we believe. Life plays in mysterious ways. And life brought the Mukhi and KhanAmirian families once again together.

To you Souren, watching my life unfold, I know you are there for me when you send me signs from above. You are still here in spirit. I love you. Until we meet again ❤

us

Peace

XO

ps: I am sure you are curious about the piece I discovered. Click on the following link https://www.instagram.com/mukhisisters/ and let its design unravel the Indian world within the confines of the Lebanese territory.

The Story of an Armenian Genocide Survivor; my GrandMother.

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Tomorrow is the 24th of April 2015.

Tomorrow, Armenians from all over the world are commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

A hundred years ago this day, began the persecution of the Armenia Community by the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire.

A hundred years ago, my grand mother, along with her mother, started her march to the unknown.

News broke that Armenian men were being arrested, imprisoned and executed. Women and children were being exiled from their homes. My grand mother is one of the many who escaped the massacre thanks to the helpful warning and care of the Kurds.

She passed away in 1995 at the age of 95, however never forgot to share her story with me and my brother.

Here is the tale of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide.

The persecution of the Armenians had already began in the Empire. One night, their Kurdish neighbor, a Sheikh, woke them up and told them to leave all their possession behind and proposed to take my teta and her mother with him and pass them as members of his family. They were fleeing Bitlis as well, scared of the unknown future.My great grand father could not leave and was left behind not to be seen again.

During their long march, my grand mother was a 15 years old young girl. Her mother was concerned of her fate knowing that her advanced age and ailing health will not permit her to continue for long. When the convoy arrived in Syria and knowing her time was up, she grabbed the Kurdish Sheikh’s hand and made him promise to never give his child away to a non- Christian man. She promised to haunt him if he ever broke his word. She passed away a couple of days later. The Sheikh being very superstitious and having in his hands a young Armenian girl started looking for a suitor. He took care of her as her own and a year later introduced her to an Armenian man, himself from Bitlis. 

My Grand parents got married and established themselves in Beirut. As any immigrant who had lost everything and left their dear ones behind, they worked hard and succeeded in establishing themselves within the Lebanese society. They embraced Lebanon, its culture and its society. They became part of the Lebanese history of Genocide survivors.

 Then followed the next generation of the KhanA family.

We are proud of our heritage. We are Lebanese of Armenian origin. Lebanon is my country. I was born and raised in Beirut. However, as any other person of Armenian descent, I will never forget the Armenian Genocide. I will never forget my history and where my ancestors are from.

I am a survivor of the Armenian Genocide.

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