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La communauté arménienne

Armenian-Cypriot relations date back to the late 6th century, when about 10.000 Armenians, who had fallen captives during the Byzantine-Persian wars, were resettled on the island as mercenaries. During the Latin Period, intermarriages between the royal houses of the Lusignan and the Cilician kingdom consolidated further the connection between the island and the Armenian people. The geographic proximity of the island just of the shores of Cilicia, enabled many Armenians, fleeing from Arab raids in the early 14th century, to take refuge on the island. The villages Platani, Kornokipos and Spathariko were set up to house the new arrivals.

At the beginning of British administration, however, only a small number of Armenians lived in Cyprus mainly in the urban environments of Larnaca and Nicosia. With the onset of persecutions of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and the genocide of 1915, the Armenian Community of Cyprus was to be fundamentally changed. Cyprus once again became a place of refuge for thousands of Armenians from Western Anatolia. Yet, to a majority of these so-called “Boat People” the island remained a transit place, from where they continued their emigration to other destinations, mainly Britain and the U.S.

Today’s Armenian Community consists mainly of the descendants of these Genocide refugees. Up to 1963, the majority of Armenians lived in a mainly Turkish-speaking neighbourhood of Nicosia. With the outbreak of interethnic conflicts, nearly the entire community of about 3.500 persons moved to the South to live among the Greek-Cypriot majority.

According to the estimations of the Demographic Report of 2004, the Armenians of Cyprus make up about 0, 3 % of the total population of the island. They are predominantly of Gregorian-Apostolic faith, though there are also a few Catholic and Protestant families. This confessional diversity, however, has not been a hindrance for intermarriages within the Armenian Community.
The fall of the Eastern Block has brought further Armenians, this time from the Republic of Armenia to Cyprus. The integration of these new arrivals into the Community has been a special challenge.

Since the 1930s, the Armenian-Apostolic Church of Cyprus stands under the jurisdiction of the Catholicosat of Antelias, Lebanon. In the 1980s a new church with an elementary school has been constructed in Nicosia to cater for the needs of a growing community.

The historical centres of Armenian life in Cyprus are the Sourp Magar Monastery in the Kerynia district, a formerly Coptic monastery handed over to the Armenian Church by the Ottomans, and the St. Asdvadzadzin Church in the old town of Nicosia, which was originally constructed in the 13th century as cloister for Benedictine nuns. Today, both centres lie in ruins. Being situated in the North of the island, they have been inaccessible to the community. Attempts to safe these places of cultural and religious heritage, have led Cypriot Armenians to appeal to charitable organisations of the Armenian Diaspora.

A further centre of major importance for Armenian diasporic life has been the Melkonian Educational Institute (MEI), situated in Nicosia. Founded in 1926 as an orphanage by Krikor and Garabed Melkonian, it has since developed into a major diasporic institution providing Armenian secondary education for Armenian youth, Cypriot and foreign. The decision of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) to close the school in 2005 is likely to have an effect not only on the Armenian Community of Cyprus, but also throughout the wider Armenian Diaspora. Armenians in Cyprus are currently involved in finding new ways to provide Armenian secondary education for members of their own community.

D 12 septembre 2012    AIrene Dietzel

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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