giovedì, settembre 20, 2012


Sunsets and the printer of Amman

by Paolo Martino

Amman is the capital of a Country hovering between remaining faithful to a pro-Western monarchy and the shock wave of the Arab Spring. A community of three thousand Armenians, a small star in the firmament of the diaspora, lives and survives the contradictions of the Middle-East. The eleventh episode of our report “From the Caucasus to Beirut”
‘There is a moment, just before sunset, when the sky of Baghdad turns so red, you just have to look at it. Every day, it’s the same thing. I was born and raised in Baghdad, but I never got used to that light”. Sevag is dozing with his elbow on the less dusty mimeograph in his typography. An Armenian flag is hanging still over his head, greasy and tired. Just like him. ‘Ten years have passed, since I ran away’. For a second, the printer’s eyes are crossed by a vital energy. ‘I would go back just to fill my eyes with one of those sunsets. But then…’ he dozes off again ‘I would leave again. There is no future for us Armenians in Iraq ’.

Jordan, a month before Christmas. The steep paths of Jabal Ashrafieh, the ‘Panoramic Hill’, are dotted with paper wreaths and colored lights. Door to the Southern Arabic deserts, root of the Bedouin dynasties, Amman is the capital of a Country hovering between remaining faithful to a pro-Western monarchy and the shock wave of the Arab Spring. A community of three thousand Armenians, a small star in the firmament of the diaspora, lives concentrated in the neighborhoods where the majority of people are Christian, way up high, where the echo of the demonstrations that fill the streets of the center every Friday is muffled.
‘Before the Americans came, Iraq was a quiet Country’. Sevag’s typography is open, but to get in, one needs to crouch under the rusty shutter. ‘The early bombings were a nightmare. But we Armenians stayed, we didn’t want to leave our homes’. Until the Second Gulf War, Iraq hosted a community of 25.000 Armenians, descendants of the genocide survivors. ‘The civil war, though, did not leave us a way out. Car bombs, attacks, abductions. When I got to Jordan, I continued doing the only thing I knew how to do, the printer. But business is not going well. My only hope is to get a visa for Canada’. Out of the 2 million of Iraqi refugees to Syria and Jordan after 2003, 5.000 are Armenians. ‘It’s always like that, you see’, Sevag strokes his stubble, ‘in war, it is the minorities who pay the highest price’.

See the other stories in the series
The sky is a blinding blue. On the horizon, beyond the stretch of houses assaulting the seven hills of Amman, the desert impends like a sense of foreboding. A clear ocher universe, where only the Bedouins remain standing. On the top of Jabal Ashrafieh, in the shadow of the wall surrounding the intimacy of an Armenian church, a Christmas open market where people keep coming and going. Hagop, former president of the Armenian Club of Amman, welcomes a foreign reporter with respect. ‘The arrival of the Armenian refugees, almost a hundred years ago, was a blessing for the Jordanian monarchy. Our fathers brought new trades, technology, culture. As of today, the majority of the goldsmiths, photographers and craftsmen in Amman are indeed Armenian’. The pledged loyalty of the newcomers to the royal family was sealed when they were granted citizenship, which elevated the status of a group of refugees to that of fully-fledged members of the community.
‘During the years, the community has had highs and lows. In the ‘50s, many crossed Syria to settle in Lebanon, a Country that offered great opportunities. At the time, it was called the Switzerland of the Middle-East’. Twenty years later, those same families were forced by the Lebanese civil war to return to Jordan, refugees for the second time in two generations.
‘I remember it as if it were yesterday. Puzzled faces getting off huge American cars with the Beirut plate, filled with suitcases. Many left soon, for the United States, Africa or South America’. Another migration, another brick in the multi-faceted identity of the children of the Armenian diaspora.
The market is about to shut. While holding a cup of tea and watching the sun getting ready to fall beyond the desert, the atmosphere in the church courtyard becomes more intimate. ‘Syria will be a carnage, trust me. Worse than Lebanon, worse than Iraq. There is something bigger at stake’. As if everything that has been said up till now were only an introduction, a formality prolog, the conversation violently veers to the subject that hovers over this land and these people with the weight of a bolder. ‘This time, the United States have found a truly brilliant way to destabilize the Middle-East, they didn’t even have to drop a single bullet. They directly armed the Syrians against their own government. And the government is compelled to respond to the fire’.
The theory that behind the Syrian Spring lies an external interference is common, especially among those who perceive change as a leap in the dark, who feel vulnerable outside of the existing balance.
‘But civilians are being massacred. A government should protect their citizens’. Hagop responds coldly. ‘Why?’, he asks without even waiting for an answer, ‘Did the Ottoman government defend its Armenian citizens in 1915?’

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