AGBU Magazine |March 2003

Armenians in England

A "Partnership" in Nation-Building

Vatche Manoukian and Armen Sarkissian come from different backgrounds. One is a very successful businessman and the other a former diplomat with no ambitions to return to political life in Armenia. But as independent thinkers, their paths often inadvertently cross, and more so in their approach to long term projects in education which both believe is the best tool in the hands of a new generation of Armenians—the leaders of the years to come.

The Corridors of British Political Life

The corridors of British political life were once off limits to anyone who was not a graduate of certain elite schools or universities, but times have changed and a new generation of immigrants are getting involved in shaping the multi-ethnic country they call home. A decade or two ago, it would have been nearly impossible for an "outsider" to break the barriers of British tradition and move up the political ladder, and while the climb is still not easy, people like Ghassan Karian and Odette Bazil stand out as examples of the changes in British society.

Preserving the Armenian Identity

There is always a thin line between assimilation and integration, and no one knows this better than a handful of activists who are the first line of defense against the erosion of Armenian life and heritage in the ethnically diverse world of London. They are fighting the "battle" through community service, education, culture and energizing not just the young generation but also helping the elderly—the umbilical cord between the past and the future. Like most large cities, London is a melting pot where Armenians from different countries and backgrounds have settled over the past century.

Home to Generations of Armenians

From as early as the 7th century, Armenians have come to British Isles, often seeking the help of monarchs and church leaders in times of national crisis, but while the early contacts remain mostly anecdotal, recorded history begins with a well documented exchange of letters in the 13th century between King Henry III and King Hetoum in which the Armenian monarch appeals for help from the Crusaders. Later in 1385, a similar appeal was made by King Levon V during a visit to London on a campaign to enlist the help of the British throne against the Mamluks from Egypt who had invaded Armenia.

More than a Knight in Shining Armor

What does Dr. Ara Darzi have in common with Rudolph Giuliani, Steven Spielberg and Colin Powell? Not much in career terms, but for the British throne, they are all unique and worthy of Knighthood. First bestowed by King George V in 1917, the title of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) has been handed to some very famous people in recent decades, and this year the honor went to Dr. Darzi, an Armenian surgeon.

Opening New Horizons

Armenian writers, musicians and artists have always been the nation's best cultural "ambassadors", opening new windows to their people, history and heritage which dates back to over 2000 years. Unlike diplomacy, their work and talent has reached the far away corners of the world well before embassies were opened and Armenia was recognized as an independent nation. "Art always travels faster than politics and diplomacy," explained Shakeh Avanessian, a talented artist who has given a whole new meaning to Armenian dance and folklore.