Photograph from Egypt Precipitates Flood of Memories and Reflections

Special to the Armenian Weekly

Recently while going through my files looking for a specific document, I came upon a picture that brought up memories and made me reflect on what my generation—now in our 70s, all born in Egypt in the 1940’s—went through in life, and what is next.

a 3rd grade class in the Armenian “Kalousdian” School in Cairo, Egypt, taken in 1953. (Vart Adjemian - second row, fourth from left)
A 3rd grade class in the Armenian “Kalousdian” School in Cairo, Egypt, taken in 1953 (Vart Adjemian – second row, fourth from left)

The picture is of a 3rd grade class in the Armenian “Kalousdian” School in Cairo, Egypt, taken in 1953. (I am in the second row, fourth from left.) Our grade teacher was Berdj Momjian (left), the school principal Dikran Babikian (right). Both were dedicated educators, deeply cared about the education and welfare of their students, and did their utmost not only to teach us the basic elements of the various disciplines but also to lay the foundations for us to become morally good citizens, and instilled in our minds and souls the resilience of the Armenian spirit.

In 1952, King Farouk was deposed and exiled. The country was then governed by the military junta led by Nasser. Initially the minorities (Armenians, Greeks, Italians) were optimistic that the new regime would improve the wellbeing of its citizens. There was apprehension, but no panic.

At the time, the Armenian community in Egypt—mainly centered in Cairo and Alexandria—was well established, vibrant, and socially active. We had our schools, our churches, our sporting clubs and party-affiliated organizations and clubs. After school, and after completing our homework and tasks, my friends and I would spend our evenings at the “Ararat” club or at “Houssaper-Talar Danik.” These were happy days, positively influenced by the remarkable leaders, coaches, and mentors of the time.

Then in 1956, the political scene changed. Nasser decided to nationalize the Suez Canal; what followed was a wave of nationalization impacting most companies that employed 50 people or more. The victims of this nationalization included a number of well-established Armenian-owned businesses and enterprises. This had a dramatic, negative economic impact on the businesses, which had many Armenian employees, whose economic welfare and continued employment, in turn, became insecure, uncertain, and highly risky.

After this nationalization, the 1956 Suez Canal War, and the interference by the U.S.S.R and the U.S. (which totally mishandled and bungled up the situation), Nasser, who was a great orator with strong convictions, started his campaign of “Pan-Arabism,” changing the geo-political realities in the Middle East, the consequences of which are still being felt in the region.

In this unfavorable and tense environment, the exodus of Armenians and other minorities from Egypt began. We and our parents, who were children of genocide survivors, who had done their best to rebuild their lives in Egypt, were forced directly or indirectly, subtly or coercively, to make the decision to leave Egypt and start anew in a foreign land. Immigration to Canada and Australia were opened up, and the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA) was helping ensure passage to the United States through Lebanon.

Which brings me back to the picture. There are 37 students in the picture (a big class). With time passing and memory fading, admittedly and sadly I do not recall the full names of all my classmates. I remember some first names, or some family names, some nicknames, but only about half of them.

Of the 37, I know for sure that 7 are in Canada, 6 in the U.S., and 5 in Australia. I wonder where the others are and if they are still alive. I have been fortunate and blessed enough to have kept in touch with seven of them. I consider them real, true friends; indeed, more like brothers.

We all had our initial struggles. Our ups and downs, our failures and successes, our joys and sadnesses. But we all managed against many odds to endure and survive. More importantly, to the best of our ability, we all continued to be actively involved in the communities we were in and the Armenian Cause. We are now grandparents.

Growing up in Egypt, we were Armenians. Egyptians called us “Khawaga,” a word meaning foreigner. Now, in our new countries, we and our children are called American-Armenian, Canadian-Armenian, and Australian- Armenian.

And now, on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, I am deeply concerned and troubled by the hardships the Armenian communities in Syria and Iraq are facing. It seems unfair that history, every 40-50 years, rears its ugly head and repeats itself, uprooting well-established, vibrant, peaceful, and productive Armenian communities, forcing them to again become wandering immigrants. It is heart-wrenching to witness their pain and suffering.

So, I wonder:

When will justice that we deserve be served?

What will the next 100 years bring?

Will our American/Canadian/Australian-Armenian grandchildren continue the struggle and the fight to achieve Justice?

Will Armenia become an economically secure, safe, prosperous, and viable nation?

Will we have world peace?

On the Centennial, much progress was made and remarkable accomplishments were achieved. But, a lot still needs to be done. We cannot let up.

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Vart Adjemian

Vart K. Adjemian was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1943. He became an ARF member at the age of 16 and was a contributor to the Armenian daily newspaper “Houssaper.” Adjemian worked for a German company in Egypt that was awarded the project of saving the Abu Simbel Temples, as well as for the Australian Embassy in Cairo. In the early 1970’s, he moved first to Montreal, Canada, and then to the United States. Adjemian worked for the Continental Grain Company (New York) for 30 years, holding executive positions in the United States, Italy, Switzerland, and England; the last 8 years of his tenure was as executive vice president and chief operating officer. In 2005, he retired to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He is an avid supporter of the ANCA and a regular reader of the Armenian Weekly.
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19 Comments

  1. You are lucky to remember names of half of the kids from your 3rd grade and still have 7 as close friends. I remember only one name and obviously not in touch with anyone from that time and I’m younger. It shows that small private Armenian schools were more than just schools.

  2. I am from Alexandria, Egypt. Thank you for your article. It does bring back a lot of memories..

  3. Sireli Vart, very impressive and touchy subject. By the way, I am Armenian, African, American.
    Do your best, and God will bless the rest.
    Everybody is obliged to do his or her part toward God, Nation and Family to achieve the right goals.
    By helping, respecting and loving one another we can do better for ever.

  4. Vart,for what it’s worth, I too have a similar picture from that era but of a different class. I am the second of three brothers who attended that school in the early 50’s. My brothers were Ivan a year older, and Ara, two years younger. My father worked for Reuters News Agency at the time of the Suez crisis, and his position became increasingly tenuous during this time of newly found Egyptian nationalism, and we ended up in Jerusalem with my father’s relatives in 57. We as a family settled in Australia in the mid sixties. I guess you’re aware that Kaloustian students and teachers used to hold reunions around the world every so often and perhaps still do, and one time such a reunion was held in Sydney about 25 years ago, which gave us a chance to catch up with past students.

  5. Vart greetings and a great article. Please share your email address – like to get in touch with you. Enjoy the best

  6. Vart you revived our memories Housaper/Tallar Danik / Kaloustian/ Berge Momdjian/Dikran Bbigian/ on and on.
    let me tell you I didn’t recocognise your picture, a second or two later,I said to myself this looks like VART at a glance your white hair fooled me…we all have changed somehow,you probably will not recognize me at all…
    WILL ARMENIA HAVE A SECURE AND PROSPEROUS FUTURE?….
    Certaily yes!…Aram 1rst pronounced some of diaspora’s shortfall while he was interviewed with an Armenian reporter you probably have seen that hour long clip…so it looks promissing , it may take some time before diasporans become active to energise the economy of our homeland.

  7. My dear friend Vart
    Excellent reviving article.
    I did not have the opportunity to attend an Armenian school but I proudly could say I have received my doctorate degree from Hoosaper university.
    I have a serious weakness of not emailing despite I do believe I must so please if you be kind enough to send me your email address .
    Vart I think I owe you a lunch after we met last in NY.
    Although I am 73 years old but very busy 5 grand children ( 5th in few weeks)and busyness but definitely I will try to start emailing.

    • Dear Daniel
      I don’t know if the coordinator of the Armenian weekly will let this through,,,,,you may work hard enough to remembre our last project was in kaloustian’s playground trying to airborne our homemade rocket, it flew a hundred yards to meet it’s target ha ha ha babikian was involved asking us you guys what is your next plan?…by the way it had dry fuel …i will manage to get your email somehow

  8. Dear Vart I am very glad to hear from you and remember our good old days,If you remember me I am the on the second row from up and the forth on left, I think I should have this picture with the names if you are interested I will find and send it to you, my email address is diran.papazian@gmail.com.

  9. Just a note. I visited Egypt in 1962 and visited the school and met with the Dickran Babikian because his relative Arsen Babikian lived in Rhode Island and told me to visit with him. Arsen’s son, Hagop Babikian lives in Belmont,MA. While I was there, the Archbishop was visiting the school. It was a very nice place then.

  10. Your photograph reminded me of my graduation photo from the Numarian School in Heliopolis. Those were wonderful years and I do have sweet memories of life in Cairo. I left Egypt 1948 for US. In 2012 I published a novel “Two Girls from Heliopolis” (amazon ) It describes life in the 30’s and 40s in Egypt. I still miss my family and friends and our life in an exceptional community.

  11. I was overwhelmed and very pleased with the response I got to the article. With the help of some who are in the picture, I was able to identify each one with their full names.
    To complete the circle, here is a complete list. If there are any errors, I apologize, but hopefully they are accurate:
    Top row left to right: Vahram Djihanian, Haig Kessedjian, Vartkes Kupelian, Arshag Kurkjian, Noubar Gharibian, Arto Sevadjian.
    Third row left to right: Zohrab Stragian, Avedis Minasian, Noubar Boursalian, Diran Papazian, Antraning Kochian, Haroutiun Enfeidjian, Armenag Kassabian, Sarkis Dogjramadjian, Antreas Balekjian,Aram Titizian, Ardashes Deyirmendjian,Avedis Kouyoumdjian, Berdj Marashlian.
    Second row left to right: Noubar Krikorian, Arto Kassabian, Levon Yazijian, Kevork Srakordsian, Levon Heghinian, Levon Hagopian, Albert Idenian, Arto Karagelinian, Vart Adjemian, Yervant Erougian, Ara Khohararian, Aram Basmadjian.
    First row left to right: Hagop Sebouhian, Kevork Manguelian, Haig Churugian, Berdj Momjian, Dikran Babigian, Kevork Kevorkian, Kevork Parmaksezian, Hampartsoum Chaghlasian.
    Wish them all well.
    Vart Adjemian

  12. It’s a beautiful photo with our principal Babigian and my brother Ardash in the picture.Thank you for sending it, I miss the old days of Kalousdian and my friends so much.

  13. A heart warming article, that brings back lots of memories to those of us who were born in Egypt in 1940’s whether in Cairo or Alexandria and had to migrate and start new lives on new shores.
    I wonder how many of the 37 are readers of the AW and seen the article. Hopefully some connections were reestablished.
    Bedo

  14. Hello
    Did anyone know a Mickael Djihanian from Cairo born 1934 with large family (sisters Athena, Victoria, brothers Vram…)

    • Yes, he was a good friend of my late father Hrant Kessedjian. I also remember one of his sister’s that I believe he went to school with who came and visited us in the early 1970’s in Birmingham UK. I remember my father helping Mickael organise an art exhibition of his work in Birmingham in the early 1980’s. I remember visiting him in Paris before that and I am wondering if Clara you were the baby daughter I can remember from that time also? If so best wishes from me and my family – If Mickael is still with us please send on my best regards.

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