YEREVAN (A.W.)—Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that Lebanese-Armenians are among the most respected ethnic minorities in his country, during a press conference following a private meeting held with his Armenian counterpart.
“Lebanese-Armenians are held in deep respect in our society for their vitality, culture, civilization, social and political influence on our country’s political and economic life,” Aoun said during the joint press conference with Armenian President Serge Sarkisian.
The Armenian community of Lebanon has a long and rich history, as Armenian have had a presence in Lebanon for centuries. There are believed to be over 100,000 Armenians in Lebanon today, though prior to the Lebanese Civil War, the population was much bigger. (To read more about the Armenian community of Lebanon, read Hagop Toghramadjian’s “Diaspora Focus: Lebanon,” from the Armenian Weekly 2017 magazine dedicated to the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide”)
Earlier in the day, President Aoun visited the Armenian National Assembly (Parliament) where he met with Speaker Ara Babloyan, Vice Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, as well as representatives of parliamentary factions and members of the Armenia-Lebanon friendship group.
Aoun also met with Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and visited the Holy See of Etchmiadzin to meet with Catholicos Karekin II.
Speaking about his tête-à-tête meeting with President Sarksian, Aoun said that the closed-door session took place in a “warm atmosphere of friendship.” “[This] reflects the strong human ties that bind us together, the specific relationship between the Armenian and Lebanese peoples, and the availability of numerous Lebanese citizens with Armenian roots,” Aoun noted. “Many of them are with me today, including Lebanese government ministers and MPs.”
During his official visit to Yerevan, Aoun was accompanied by a Lebanese delegation, which included Lebanese-Armenians Avedis Gidanian—the country’s Minister of Tourism—and Member of Parliament Hagop Pakradouni. Both Gidanian and Pakradouni are members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), which has been an active political party in Lebanon since the 1920s.
Currently, two Armenians are a part of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet—Gidanian and Jean Oghassabian, who serves as the Minister for Women’s Affairs.
“More than 100 years have passed since the Armenian Genocide, but there are historical events and a sense of gratitude that have no time restrictions,” noted Sarkisian, while thanking the people and authorities in Lebanon during the Feb. 22 press conference. “I once again thank the people and the authorities of Lebanon for giving refuge, accommodating and providing an opportunity to work and create for Armenian refugees in that crucial part of our history. We are grateful that Lebanon is on our side in the effort to condemn and prevent the crime of genocide,” Sarkisian said.
A day earlier, President Aoun visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex—including the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, where he signed the visitor’s book. In his note, Aoun emphasized that justice must be realized in the case of the Armenian Genocide case. He also saluted the Armenian people who, despite all ordeals and tribulations, managed to build a proud country and advance towards a better future. The President of Lebanon also planted a tree at Tsitsernakaberd in honor of Armenian Genocide victims.
During Thursday’s joint session, President Sarkisian announced that he had briefed Aoun on the latest developments in the Artsakh peace process and said that the two heads of state agreed that any settlement should be based on Artsakh people’s right to live in its historic homeland. “Our shared conviction is that there can be no such a resolution as will in any way undermine the right of the people of Artsakh to live freely and securely in their historical homeland,” Sarkisian noted.
President Aoun said that the two spoke about the situation in Syria, notably the problem of Syrian immigrants, which the Lebanese head of state said is “more complicated” in neighboring countries, especially in Lebanon. “I told my counterpart that our country has been subjected to economic, social, and security pressures resulting in more than one and a half million immigrants along with insufficient international assistance to meet their needs,” Aoun said. He also stressed that it is necessary to work toward an international consensus, which will ensure the return of the refugees to their country under the control of the Syrian government.
Lebanon-Armenia relations, including bilateral trade, inter-parliamentary relations, and cross-country investment were also discussed during high-level talks between the Lebanese and Armenian delegations, held following the private meeting between the two presidents.
On Thursday evening, President Sarkisian hosted a state dinner in honor of Aoun at the presidential palace.