The number of Armenians in Chile is 2000 people. This figure also includes members of mixed families which make up a significant part of the Armenian community of the country. The Armenian community in Chile can be called peculiar since over the years, the number of Armenians in Chile has not increased and instead remained stable. The backbone of the Armenian community is made up of people from the Middle East.
After the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, an influx of Christians from the Middle East, mainly from Palestine, poured into Latin America. It was during this period that the Armenians also went to Chile along with Palestinian Christian refugees. Many then moved to Argentina and Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia, as well as to Venezuela.
However, part of the Armenians still remained in Chile and eventually joined the multi-ethnic environment of the country. Another group of Armenian migrants with 30 families arrived in Chile from Lebanon and Syria – in particular, from Tripoli, Zahlé, and Damascus – due to the civil wars in Lebanon in the mid-80s. In the late 70s, a number of Armenian families from Iran also moved to Chile. 60 Baghdad Armenians moved to Chile in the mid-80s.
It is noteworthy that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent wave of migration from Armenia did not affect Chile. Therefore, the Armenian community of Chile is not even considered relatively new. Many Armenian families in Chile have family ties with the local Basques, Italians, and French.
For objective reasons, the Armenian community only partially preserved its traditions and customs, mostly adopting the Basque and Italian customs, which is noted in the annual ethnographic reviews of Chile.
Chilean Armenians have Europeanized names, and they have 2 surnames, European and Armenian. However, not all families observe this “order”. Leaders of the Armenian community, for example, prefer traditional Armenian names and surnames.
Most Armenians in Chile live in the capital Santiago where an Armenian educational center operates and the offices of Armenian traditional parties and charitable organizations are located. In Santiago, most Armenian families are adherents of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The rest of the Armenians, mainly members of mixed Armenian-Basque, Armenian-French, and Armenian-Italian families, live in the cities of Valparaiso, Viña Del Mar, La Serena, Valdivia, Portillo, and Valle Nevado. The Armenian Catholic community is located in the city of Concepción where representatives of almost all European ethnic groups represented in Chile live.
As in other Latin American countries where Armenians live, the Armenian issue has been raised more than once in Chile. In 2007, the Chilean Senate adopted a unanimous decision urging the government to support the Armenian people and condemn the Armenian Genocide. The author of the draft decision was member of the Senate and a representative of the Socialist Party Ricardo Nunez Muñoz who is friends with the Armenian community of the country.
The decision, in particular, spoke about the consistent policy of the authorities of the Ottoman Empire to exterminate the Armenian people. It also referred to the coherent genocide of the Armenian people in the period from 1915 to 1923 which killed more than 1.5 million Armenians.
“These terrible acts became the first ethnic cleansing of the 20th century. Much earlier than similar actions received their legal wording, the fact of a gross violation of the human rights of the Armenian people was recorded,” representatives of the Senate argued.
The decision stated that taking the appropriate steps was Chile’s ethical and moral duty. It also urged the country to sign the 1985 UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities which characterized these events as genocide.
Senate members make harsh statements against Turkey from time to time. This is the case when the senators, not having any moral responsibility to the Chilean Armenian community, are trying with their statements and actions to support the Armenian people in recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Recently, the denial policy of the Armenian Genocide has reached the coasts of Chile. This is due to the growing number of Turks in the country. Moreover, the Turks began to build mosques and establish organizations here. Meanwhile, taking into account the experience of the neighboring Armenian diasporas in Latin America, the Armenians of Chile should also be more active in protecting their rights and spreading pan-Armenian ideas and tasks.