Armenians holding on to their culture in the United Arab Emirates -
Rev Father Mesrob Sarkissian and Father Aram Dekermeijan at the Armenian Church in Yarmook, Sharjah. — KT photo by M. Sajjad
From just a handful who came here in 1977, there are over 10,000 Armenians in the UAE now
Like everyone else across the globe, a handful of Armenian nationals came to the UAE to try their luck in the oil-rich and slowly booming economy. That was in the 1950s and 1960s. And in 1977, an official Armenian community was officially established.
“This event was marked by the first holy mass in Armenian delivered in the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Dubai in the presence of only 70 Armenians,” said Rev Father Mesrob Sarkissian, Catholicosal Vicar in the UAE and Qatar. Father Mesrob was speaking to Khaleej Times about the formation of the Armenian Church and the Armenian community in the UAE. Today there are about 10,000 to 11,000 Armenians living in the UAE and because of the burgeoning numbers, the church plans to open a new worship centre in Abu Dhabi on December 5, this year. “It is difficult to give an exact count of the number of Armenians living here, but in Sharjah, we have scores of second generation Armenians doing very well for themselves,” said Father Mesrob.
The first and only Armenian Apostolic Church is located in Sharjah in Yarmook. It was built on land graciously donated by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, according to Rev Father Mesrob. “The church was built in Sharjah at the request of His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II. On November 15, 1998 the church was consecrated by His Holiness Aram I Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia,” said Father Mesrob.
The diaspora of Armenians living in the Gulf have many citizenships (mainly from Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, US, Canada, Australia and European countries).
“Many Armenians were displaced from their motherland to neighbouring countries after the Armenian Genocide of 1915, so many members of our church have dual nationalities,” said Father Mesrob. “There are about 230 students who come to the church to learn, read, write and speak the Armenian language. The students are as young as three years old and some are as old as 17,” added.
“We conduct classes in several batches and the main priority of these classes is to keep the younger generations informed of our culture and historical backgrounds,” added Father Mesrob.
The church is a hub of activity for many Armenian nationals living in Sharjah, Dubai, and nearby areas, said Father Aram Dekermeijan, a priest at the church. From the annual Christmas bazaar, to an Armenian Ball and to musical plays, the Armenian Church organises several events for the benefit of the Armenian church-goers in UAE. “We hold masses once every two weeks and Armenian language classes are held every Saturday,” said Father Mesrob.