ARMENIAN EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY IN EGYPT
The Armenian Evangelicals occupy special position in the Armenian community of Egypt – one of the key states in the Middle East. Despite smallness the Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt leads rather active life, which attracts attention of both expert community and academic circles.
The Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt is characterized by the following features:
- It is small in number and is centered in Alexandria.
- Its organizational structures carry out regular activity which first of all characterizes the organization and eagerness of the community.
- The activity of the community is not restricted to only local level (Egypt) but it often acquires regional character. It is manifested in its involvement in the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East as well as in the works of other regional Evangelical organizations.
- The community is closely integrated to the local Armenian Apostolic and Catholic communities and all together they form an integral whole – the Armenian community in Egypt.
Formation of the Armenian Evangelical community
The Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt was formed at the end of the 19th century, as a result of emigration of the Armenians from the Ottoman Empire caused by the pogroms. New mass emigration conditioned by the Armenian Genocide even enlarged the number of the Armenian Evangelicals in Egypt. This is proved by two facts presented in the book by K. Atanalanian “Monument to the Armenian Evangelicals and Evangelical Church” (in Armenian):
1. The history of the Armenian Evangelicals in Egypt in 1936 had counted 40 years. This fact comes to prove that the community was formed by the Armenian Evangelicals who managed to survive Armenian pogroms and Genocide and found shelter in Egypt.
2. In 1936 half of the Armenian Protestants in Egypt were Turkish speaking. Though formally Egypt was a part of the Ottoman Empire till 1914, but in reality even since the middle of the 18th century the Ottoman rule in Egypt had been of formal and nominal character. Correspondingly, the prevalence of the Turkish language among non-Turk population could not have objective grounds. So, the fact that half of the Armenian Evangelicals were Turkish speaking could be conditioned only by circumstance that they had migrated from other districts of the Ottoman Empire.
The number of the Armenian Evangelicals in Egypt in 1936 was 800. They were centered in the cities where many Armenians traditionally live – Cairo (500 people) and Alexandria (300 people).
Since the middle of the 20th century a tendency to migrate to the Soviet Armenia, Western Europe, US, Canada and Australia had been observed among the Armenians in Egypt. This tendency even intensified after the uprising in 1952 and the president Gamal Abd al Naseri’s coming to power. The emigration which gradually acquired mass scale, and this was also characteristic for other groups of Christians living in Egypt, affected the local Armenian Evangelical community as well. As a result, the Armenian Evangelical community in Cairo has almost fully expired. The fact that the Armenian Evangelical church in Cairo stopped working is the evidence of that.
Today the Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt is restricted to Alexandria where the Armenian Evangelical church founded back in 1920s is working. There is no concrete data about the size of the community. There is only approximate information which can serve as a basis for some suppositions. Thus, according to A. Hakobyan the current Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt consists of 300 families. The number of the pupils of the Sunday school working under the Armenian Evangelical Church in Alexandria can grant an opportunity to make suppositions concerning the size of the community. The number of the pupils is 15-18.
The organizations of the Armenian Evangelical community are not distinguished by their quantity and variety. There are two types of organizations – church (1) and educational (1).
- The only church organization is the Armenian Evangelical Church in Alexandria. It was founded in 1920s. At present the church is headed by preacher Samvel Khunganian who, in fact, is the leader of the Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt. There is a problem of deficit of the spiritual figures. Since 1990, when the last reverent – Vahram Khunganian died, the church has had not reverent. That is why liturgies are offered by the members of the board of the church (Samvel Khunganian, Hakob Kanimian).
- The only educaitional organization is the Sunday school of the Armenian Evangelical church. School is headed by Limi Khunganian who, together with Lidia Khunganian, is responsible for the issues of education.
The scantiness of the organizations and their non-diversity can be conditioned by the following factors:
1. The scantiness of organizations. In the quantitative aspect the Armenian Evangelicals in Egypt cede to the Armenian Evangelicals in other regional countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iran). This very factor conditions the absence of the necessity to establish a broad network of various organizations.
2. Secular character of Egypt. Egypt is mostly a secular state. Religious communities and organizations mainly deal with spiritual and church issues; meanwhile secular organizations are responsible for other spheres. In this aspect it should be mentioned that the Armenian educational, cultural and other organizations in Egypt are mainly in the secular sphere.
3. Discriminatory attitude. Though Egypt with its social and political environment more corresponds to the Western European societies, nevertheless, it is not fully deprived of intolerant attitude towards people of other religions, and in particular towards Christians, which is characteristic to some Muslim counties to some extent. After Gamal Abd al Naseri’s coming to power discriminatory attitude towards Christians was even more outlined on both social and state levels. In particular, if Muslims can freely build religious building, Christians have to get the official permission of the top authorities of Egypt.
The levels of activity
The activity of the Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt is manifested on two levels – local and regional.
1. On local level community spreads its activity within the borders of Egypt. This activity, in its turn, is divided into two sub-levels – national and international.
- On national sub-level the eager activity of the Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt is manifested in regular functioning of the communal organizations among both Armenian Evangelicals and Armenians in Egypt in general.
The organizations of the Armenian Evangelical community in Alexandria carry out regular activity among Armenian Evangelicals. Despite all the difficulties, among which the reduction of the size of the community is the most topical, according to Hakob Khunganian, every Sunday a liturgy is delivered in the Armenian Evangelical church in Alexandria. A Sunday school works regularly. Weekly reading of the Bible by women and girls under the direction of Lidia Khunganian is another manifestation of a regular activity of the community in Alexandria.
As for the activity among the entire Armenian community it can be seen particularly in educational sphere which is generally characteristic of the Armenian Evangelical communities in the Near East. The Armenian Evangelical educational facilities have always been available for children from other confessional groups (Catholics, Apostolics). It may be said that the Armenian Evangelical educational facilities are of nationwide character. Thus, according to the bulletin of the Armenian Evangelical Sunday schools of the Near East (October 1947 – April 1948) only 54% from the total number of the pupils of the Armenian Evangelical Sunday schools in Near East (including Egypt) were Evangelicals. 41% were the adherents of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the other 5% were the representatives of other confessions. At present, according to H. Kanimian, children of the Apostolic Armenians also study at the Armenian Evangelical Sunday school in Alexandria.
- On international sub-level the activity of the Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt is mainly manifested in the form of cooperation with other Evangelical communities of the country. Particularly, the Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt is a member of the Association of the Evangelical Churches of Egypt.
2. On regional level the activity of the Armenian Evangelical community goes beyond the borders of Egypt and is spread over the Middle East. Here the differentiation on national and international levels can also be applied.
- On national sub-level the Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt traditionally spreads its activity within the framework of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East. Particularly, the representatives of the community regularly participated and participate in the works of this organization.
- On an international sub-level The Armenian Evangelical community in Egypt cooperates with other Evangelical communities in the Near East. This is proved, for example, by the fact of participation of the Armenian Evangelicals from Egypt in the International Conference held in Amman (Jordam) and arranged by the Union of the Evangelical Churches of the Near East.
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