One of the activists of the Armenian commune of Riga, entrepreneur Gagik Zakharian returned home after a long tip. This is what he told.
“Is spent four years in Sweden. I returned to Riga and wanted to share my impressions of that country and of the life of the Armenian commune, especially of one of its leaders Murad Artin, as well as tell about the unique personality of Sabri Johansson, also an Armenian.
There aren’t many Armenians in Scandinavia. You could find our compatriots in the capital of Sweden Stockholm, as well as in Gothenburg, Västerås, and in the university city of Uppsala, in the vicinity of which is the city of Örebro where I have been living with my family.
The Armenian commune is mostly comprised of the natives of Near Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, as well as Iran. There also are people from Armenia. The positions of Armenian parties of the dashnaks, hunchaks, and ramkavars are still strong. They are supported by the Gyulbenkian Fund located in Lisbon, Portugal.
The recent exhibition “Armenian architectural monuments in Turkey – before the genocide and now” has caused a serious stir. Civilized Scandinavians saw with their own eyes the barbaric attitude of the Turks towards foreign historical heritage, even if it is located in their territory.
I liked how the communes celebrate the Independence Day of Armenia, as well as church feasts. The feasts are typically held in respectable restaurants. A respectable public gathers there as well with many children. The youth organizations of the Armenian Diaspora in Uppsala and Stockholm were gathering our youngsters and girls for various kinds of events.
My daughters Armine and Emma spent some time in a youth camp organized by the folks from the “Armenian club.” Over 70 people were there, all speaking Armenian in various dialects, including the dialects of Karabakh, Lebanon, Iran… Everyone made friends with each other. They still call each other and maintain their connections online.
The most renowned Armenian in Sweden is politician Murad Artin. Born in Iraq, he by the age of 20 earned the respect and liking of many common people for his indomitable energy, kindness, and his care of the elderly and children. He used to be a Left Party member in the Riksdag, the parliament of Sweden, from 1998 to 2002. In many ways, he was the one who made the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the government of Sweden possible.
He was a youngster when he fled from the regime of Saddam Hussein. He ended up in Poland and then managed to move to Stockholm. He doesn’t speak Armenian, but he is an Armenian to the core. He is a well-known and valued person in the Diaspora. He has been in Armenia several times. In particular, he was officially invited by the Armenian government to the commemoration events of the 1700th anniversary of Christianity’s adoption in Armenia and the 90th anniversary of the Genocide.
Murad Artin also once organized the visit of a large women’s organization in Yerevan to Sweden. The Scandinavian experience came in handy for the Armenian women in their social activities, job, and when resolving family issues. Artin himself financed the trip.
Murad Artin is proud that he managed to send his parents to the land of his ancestors. His dad and mom were so touched! There were many Armenians on the plane, everyone smiling. His parents adored Armenia, a country that they had heard a lot about. They didn’t want to return to Sweden.
Another notable Armenian activist in Sweden is Sabri Johansson (Hovhannisyan). He was born in a distant Kurdish-populated village in Turkey. He also doesn’t speak Armenian. Needless to say, he had heard of the Genocide of 1915, but his Armenian consciousness would only awaken in Sweden after he moved to the country with his family in a mature age.
Sabri is a religious man. He has close connections with the Protestant Church. Not very healthy himself, he with the help of the church raises money to send humanitarian aid to the country of his ancestors. Sometimes, he personally arrives in Armenia. His age isn’t an obstacle for him! Having learned in Armenia that many people can’t have their children baptized because of financial issues, Johansson gathered 400 silver chains for pectoral crosses, brought them to Yerevan, and paid all the baptism costs for the children.
During one of his trips to Armenia, Johansson found his relatives. He was so glad! “I speak Swedish, German, Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish. It is time to learn the mother tongue,” Johansson would say. And I am assured that he will become proficient in Armenian.
Sabri also has grandiose plans in mind. He isn’t quite satisfied by just providing humanitarian aid: he wants to build a church in Armenia. He was surprised though by the amount of money that the local workers asked him for to build the God’s temple. He isn’t despairing and hopes to find other workers, those who are more conscientious. After all, a nation that lost conscience doesn’t have a future. But Mr. Johansson believes in his people. And he wishes normal life to establish itself in Armenia.
Swedish newspapers wrote about Murad and Sabri, including the Horizont magazine published in Uppsala in Swedish and Armenian by journalist and writer Karo Hakobian. The people in the Diaspora will find out about these two admirable Armenians who don’t even speak Armenian yet and have not so Armenian names.”
Aleksandr Geronian, Riga