Among several prominent Armenians who worked in France in service of the Armen-
ian cause, Boghos Nubar occupies a unique position. The son of the former prime minister of Egypt as well as an engineer and a co-founder of the city of Heliopolis, he had been disturbed by the catastrophic conditions in the Ottoman Armenian provinces after the 1895 massacres. It was in order to offer a remedy for this tragedy that he—along with nine other Egyptian Armenian notables—founded the Armenian General Benevolent Union in Cairo in 1906. This organization would play a major role in the rehabilitation of Armenian genocide survivors, particularly in the aftermath of World War I.
Upon the request of the Armenian Catholicos Kevork V, Boghos Nubar accepted to preside over the Armenian National Delegation and settled in Paris at the end of 1912 to carry out the mission that had been entrusted to him: to persuade Western governments to urge the Ottoman Empire to make reforms in the Armenian provinces of Asia Minor. His reasoning sought to demonstrate that these reforms would bring an element of peace and stability to the region. In June 1913, the first discussions among the ambassadors of the Great Powers were held in Constantinople in light of a memorandum drafted by the Armenians. It was reaffirmed there that the Armenians did not strive in any way for autonomy, but rather for the establishment of an administration capable of ensuring the safety of property and individuals.
During the months that followed the London Conference in April 1913, Nubar attempted to influence the positions of the Great Powers by relying on national committees, such as Lord Bryce’s British-Armenian Committee, and on his many personal connections. He insisted, in particular, on the absolute need for the Great Powers to control the reforms, rather than Russia, which London and Berlin formally rejected. Nubar did not hesitate to make many trips to London to meet the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey as well as to Berlin to meet Grey’s German counterpart. In order to complete his mission, Boghos Nubar organized an Armenophile conference in Paris at the beginning of December 1913. Parliamentarians from all European countries that were part of the Armenophile movement participated in the conference. On February 8, 1914, a decree that formalized the reforms was adopted by the Ottoman government.
With his mission accomplished, Nubar returned to Cairo where he alluded to this mission at the AGBU General Assembly on May 15, 1914: “The agreement regarding our Reforms, which was made between the Great Powers and the Sublime Porte […] will ensure an era of safety and justice for our compatriots in the seven vilayets; will let them work in peace; and will allow prosperity to be born in places where only barrenness and misery exist today.”
Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Nubar returned to Paris and, at the end of 1916, launched an appeal to form an Armenian Legion under French command. Marseille soon welcomed hundreds of Armenian-Americans who had responded to his appeal. The National Delegation, which resumed its work in 1916, published the journal La Voix de l’Arménie (The Voice of Armenia) from 1919 to 1920 and was responsible—along with the delegation from the Republic of Armenia—for defending national interests during the Peace Con-ferences that took place in 1919 and 1920 in Paris. In 1920, Nubar left his position as president of the National Delegation in order to devote himself to developing AGBU.
In addition to his AGBU legacy, he left an imprint on Paris by establishing the Nubar Library to preserve the written heritage of the Ottoman Armenians. He also founded the Maison des Étudiants Arméniens, a residence for Armenian students from abroad that continues to operate to this day.
Translated from French by Jennifer Manoukian