Camps de réfugiés palestiniens et responsables arméniens

Recherches sur web : Nil V. Agopoff _

  • During the Fifthies and Sixties many Armenians worked in the UNRWA. During this period the top Armenian in that organization was Antranig Bakerjian. Another top position was held by Apraham Toumayan who was in accounting and paymaster. Another top position in the education administration was Ohannes Aghabekian. Historic datas by Edward Hagopian - Jerusalem 2004

Interview with late Antranig Bakerjian

by Leila Tarazi and Nora Carmi

  • Antranig Bakerjian is a Jerusalemite Palestinian Armenian and natural leader who dedicated his life to the service of the Palestinian Refugees for thirty three years (1950-1983).
    He acted as area officer with UNRWA in Jerusalem, Jericho and Nablus (the West Bank).

  • What was the definition of "refugee"?

    When the UN started there was no concrete definition of who is a refugee. Ideas developed later but at no point did any official definition recognize or include the political rights of the Palestinian. How can one categorize suffering? Under no circumstances can we categorize human suffering.

  • What was the condition of refugees, the real situation when you joined the work?

    The people that we worked with were those who had brought their suffering as well as memories of a country they had left behind, villages, homes, vineyards, a community they belonged to, and organizations they had established. In fact, a life story. They were the second wave of refugees - about 300,000 people who had fled their country before the British mandate ended. (The British army actually moved out on May 13, 1948 instead of on May 15.) The first wave made their way to Lebanon and Egypt, they were the well-to-do and more privileged. We had to bring relief and hope to the thousands of refugees who fled to Jordan. What became evident in the 1948 expulsion was the spirit of patriotism and compassion, as witnessed through the support given by kin - in Ramallah for example, through the "welcoming committees."

  • Did you consider the problem and the assistance as temporary? Did you ever imagine the situation would last so long?

    Nobody expected the situation to be a prolonged, dragging one. Even after the 1967 occupation, I didn't imagine it would last another five years. The general feeling was that the Arabs would get even with Israel. It was this hope that enabled the people in the camps to endure it all. In the past 20 years, I have often asked myself: 'Till when?

    This was the time when we preached endurance through words that became operational tools - words like Allah kabir: God is great, and Bifrijhah Allah: God will ease it, will solve it.

    Some people think that UNRWA's existence and the refugees' dependence on rations hindered, or reduced the urgency of finding a solution to the Palestinian problem. Please comment.

    The long history of UNRWA passed through five-year phases and each one was different. At times only lip-service was being offered, or UNRWA would act as a tranquilizer. In the first five years there was no real relief given. Later, the agency did bring about considerable change.

    Out of a budget of $250 million for the 3 years 1952-1955, only $50 million was earmarked for relief. $200 million was to be used to develop a rehabilitation plan that would shape the future of the Middle East, by building dams on the Yarmouk and Euphrates rivers, and by creating the Eastern Ghor Canal, and other projects. This all helped to divert world attention away from the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

    Later stages were visibly more positive. A sort of miracle happened due to political events in the Arab world. For one, with the new UNRWA Director Henry Labouise, the investigations about which refugees were entitled to ration cards in the camps was eased, and replaced by a policy that all children should receive services and food. Human beings that were suffering should not be used as pawns for political gains. This had a great effect on the morale of the refugees. Also, there was a problem of idle youth. There were 500,000 young, idle and uneducated youth loitering in the camps. Vocational training schools were established, the first being in Kalandia in 1953. The importance of developing skills became clear, especially as the economy of the Middle East was to depend on oil, and job opportunities in the Gulf that were opening up.

    Between the years 1960-1965, vocational training for refugees was expanded eight-fold. Progress in actual living conditions became evident when tents were replaced by 16,000 housing units. Displaced refugees everywhere need "compassion and not charity." They need empowerment to retain their dignity as human beings. Programs like summer youth camps and activities for the elderly helped promote community service and voluntary commitment. Teamwork became the pattern and model of dealing with the problem in a humane way.

    This is how we dealt with the immediate human suffering, but the real solution to the problem had to be a political one.

  • Can you think of any particularly poignant stories that you came across during your years of service?

    The long suffering of the Palestinian refugee waiting for a just solution that never came. The influx of refugees into Arab countries put an added burden on the host countries and created dissent and friction in many instances. One such case is the heartrending experiences in Jordan in September 1970. The enormity of the need there brought to light the deep bonds between the people of the West Bank camps and their kin across the river. UNRWA ran to the assistance of the refugees in East Jordan. All forces were rallied and provisions were trucked to the periphery of some Jordanian camps. Households in the West Bank camps baked a batch of bread, school-going children brought 2 hard boiled eggs to school to be sent to feed a child in Jordan. Typically, trucks would reach their destination with reduced loads, but if even 50% of the original provisions were distributed, it was an achievement.

    (Antranig Bakerjian recounted this next part with tears in his eyes.) After one such truck load arrived at one camp, a woman who was being offered bread started pulling and tearing her hair and in tears, she screamed, "I will never taste bread again, for my son died of hunger." This was an expression of anger and broken-heartedness at the injustices committed by humankind.

    The history of the Palestinian refugees reads like a series of calculated political steps taken by the "powers" in order to divert attention from their right to their land. Never once were the Palestinians given political protection under the UN. UNRWA was never a branch of the secretariat, which explains why attempts to show to the full the human side of the organization failed.

  • What from your point of view is the solution, if any? How do you foresee the future?

    The Arab/Israeli conflict had its roots in 1897. Decisions made then were designed to be implemented by political schemes and the Zionists spared nothing to achieve these, aided by their allies, friends, and by some governments.

    The future of the Palestinian refugee depends on:
    The State of Israel correcting its historic wrongdoing by deeds of redemption toward the inhabitants they drove away from their land.

    The Arab world fully accepting that a just peace with Israel is possible under international auspices - meaning the implementation of UN resolutions.

The Agoump, the Armenian Center, in 1948 after a jewish bomb

Antranig Bakerdjian, Jack Zakarian and Dikran

Photo : Antranig Bakerdjian, Jack Zakarian and Dikran

  • La mère de Mme Madeleine Aprahamian en visite à Jérusalèm en 1997. Sur le second rang, on peut voir en partie :
    - à l'extrême gauche Hovannes Aghabegian
    - et à l'extrême droite M. Antranig Bakerjian.

  • Une page en anglais à chercher
    par Nil Agopoff

    - Dans les années 1963-64- 65 (?), (?), (etc), je lisais les pages en anglais du journal arméno-américain "LERAPER" qui était un journal pro-Arménie soviétique de l'époque. Ce journal à grand format de l'époque devait être publié ou à New York ou à Boston (?).

    - Je me rappelle qu'il y avait eu un article sur une page entière consacré sur les activités et le témoignage d'un directeur de camp de réfugiés palestiniens organisé et subventionné par l'ONU. Le directeur du camp était un arménien de Palestine. Naturellement je ne souviens pas de son nom.

    - Il faudrait retrouver cette page par une recherche systématique dans les anciens numéros de ce journal arméno-américain "LERAPER" : dans les bibliothèques arméniennes (Erévan, Nubar de Paris, Mekhitarian de Vienne, au New York Public Library, à la Bibliothèque du Congrès à Washington, etc.).

    - PS. Il y aura une recherche à faire dans les archives de la UNRWA : à New York à l'ONU (United Nations), à l'UNESCO et dans l'agence centrale au Moyen-Orient. Paris le 11 Novembre 2004.
à compléter