Dr. Boris Adjemian gave a thought-provoking presentation on “The AGBU Nubar Library in Paris: Safeguarding Western Armenian Heritage through Documentation, Research, and Publication” on Monday, October 9, as part of the Armenian Studies Program Fall Lecture Series. In addition, Dr. Adjemian spoke about “The Armenians in Ethiopia,” which was also the topic of his dissertation.
Dr. Adjemian is a historian and the director of the AGBU Nubar Library, founded by Boghos Nubar Pasha in 1928. The library serves to preserve the memory and heritage of Ottoman Armenians, especially after the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and the dispersion of the Armenians. The library has a collection of over 40,000 books, 1,500 periodicals, and more than10,000 archival photographs, produced from the 1890s to the 1940s.
Scholars, historians, film-makers, and doctoral candidates often utilize the vast archives of the Library to conduct their research. The archives are divided into four parts: The Andonian Collection; the Archives of the Patriarchate of Istanbul; the Archives of the Armenian National Delegation, and the AGBU archives. The archives of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) represent a major resource for the study of AGBU and other philanthropic organizations’ activities for the welfare of and in aid of Armenian orphans and refugees after World War I, and particularly in the 1920s.
Since 2013, the Nubar Library has published a bi-lingual (French, English) multi-disciplinary journal, Études arméniennes contemporaines. This biannual journal is the first Armenian Studies periodical to be published online, where it is fully available in open access at https://eac.revues.org/, with the support of Cléo (Centre for open electronic publishing).
The Nubar Library’s website has a virtual exhibition on the Armenian Genocide of 1915, based on the exhibition initiated by the Mayor of Paris and presented at the Paris City Hall in 2015. The website for the Nubar Library is http://www.bnulibrary.org/index.php/en/.
Dr. Adjemian’s presentation on the Armenians of Ethiopia was conveyed through the stories of individual Armenians who had made an impact in the country. One of these was a photographer by the name of Hrant, who had opened his photographic store in Addis Abbaba in the 1920s. The Armenians played a foundational role in the art of photography not only in Ethiopia, but in the Middle East.
The genesis of the Armenian community began with immigration to Ethiopia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first major phase of Armenians was from the regions of Arabkir and Agn in the province of Kharpert. According to Dr. Adjemian, there were between only 150 and 200 Armenians in Ethiopia on the eve of World War I in 1913. After the Armenian Genocide, a second phase of immigration began, mostly of Armenians from Aintab. By the late 1920’s there were about 1,200 Armenians in Ethiopia, forming the high point in terms of numbers for the community.
Dr. Adjemian has been studying the Armenian com-munity of Ethiopia for more than twenty years, and he fortuitously discovered several albums of photographs while working late one night at the Library. This brought to light the remarkable story of 40 Armenian orphan boys from the region of Van, who were living in the Araratian orphanage in Jerusalem. The crown prince of Ethiopia, Ras Teferi Mekonnen (the future Emperor Haile Selassie), was on a diplomatic tour of Europe in the 1920s, but his first stop was in Jerusalem to show his support for the Ethiopian Church.
While in Jerusalem, Ras Teferi also visited the Armenian Patriarchate and heard a brass band composed of the orphan boys, playing in his honor. He was so impressed that he requested that the band return with him to Ethiopia to become the official band of the Emperor and of the country.
The Armenian Patriarch agreed to this proposal, and so the 40 Armenian boys were sent to Ethiopia, forming the Royal Brass Band of Ethiopia.
Accompanying the band was their conductor Kevork Nalbandian, who became the chief composer of the Ethiopian court and was asked by the Emperor to create the first National Anthem of Ethiopia. That National Anthem continued to be played until the Ethiopian revolution of 1974.
Dr. Adjemian’s presentation was informative and fascinating and shed light on a little-known but important Armenian Diasporan community.