“Could you please tell me how to reach the town hall?” asked the tourist a Parisian. “The town hall? It’s very simple, monsieur. Go straight towards the 24 April 1915 Street, turn left, and go straight to the Komitas Street. There, at the intersection with Armenia Street, you will see the town hall.”
We now aren’t in Yerevan, Gyumri, or Vanadzor. We are in France, in Paris. It is now a reality that many streets, avenues, boulevards, and parks in France bear the names of people and events that at their time had a strong impact on France or Armenia.
There are most likely tens of streets named Armenia, Yerevan, and 24 April 1915 in Armenian-populated cities of France. Some of the French streets bear the names of individuals not so known in France but very well heard of in Armenia. Likewise, some names are renowned in France but not in Armenia. For example, such a name is Misak Manouchian.
For those who aren’t familiar with Manouchian, let us briefly introduce him. Misak Manouchian was a hero of the French Resistance, a descendant of Ottoman Armenians. He was born on September 1, 1906, and he was only 8 when he witnesses the murder of his father by the Turkish military. His mother died from starvation later. At the age of 9, he became the witness to the Armenian Genocide, the terrifying scenes of which would haunt him for the rest of his days. Luckily, he was adopted by a Kurdish family as the Genocide unfolded. Later, he would be taken care of by Christian relief organizations.
In 1924, Manouchian moved to Marseille along with his younger brother. There, he would begin publishing two literary magazines: “Jank” (“effort” in Armenian) and “Mshiguyt” (“culture”). He also at some point headed the Committee for the for Armenian Relief.
In the years of WWII, Manouchian demoted himself to the struggle against the German occupants in France, becoming the leader of one of the partisan groups comprised of foreigners. He became so known among the Germans that they would eventually announce a bounty of 100 thousand Reichsmarks for him.
On May 16, 1943, the Germans managed to arrest Manouchian along with Joseph Epstein, the leader of the French partisans in Paris. Manouchian would be executed at Fort Mont-Valérien on February 21, 1944. The park where Manouchian was arrested would be named after him by the council of Évry commune in the southern suburbs of Paris.
The Armenian-populated commune of Alfortville on the outskirts of Paris – not far from Évry – has streets named Armenia, 24 April 1915, Group of Manouchian, as well as a park named Ashtarak. The name of the park isn’t a coincidence: Alfortville has been twinned with the Armenian town of Ashtarak since 1993.
Clamart, a commune in southwestern suburbs of Paris, is also a home to many French Armenians, some of whom hold major positions in the commune’s council. This commune houses a park named after a person who is known to only a few Armenians living in France. On June 1, 2002, this park was named after Doctor Damlamian (1885 – 1985). At the ceremony, the head of the commune’s council Philip Kaltenbach emphasized the successful integration of the Armenians into the commune and reminded that Doctor Damlamian was the first Armenian to settle in Clamart in 1917.
The daughter of Damlamian, madam Nora Der-Hagopian, said: “It is very hard to review the long and lively life of Doctor Damlamian. After all, he lived for a hundred years.
He was born in 1885 in Anatolia to a family of a successful merchant. He had seven brothers and one sister. He had a command of French since childhood because he at some point attended a French school.
He would then study medicine in Beirut. Affectionate to France, he arrived in Paris in 1913. During WWI, he served as a military doctor in hospitals. During the First Battle of the Marne, the President of France Raymond Poincaré shook his hand and thanked him on behalf of France. After the war, Doctor Damlamian departed to Armenia with a medical mission.
He hoped to settle there forever, but the Bolshevik revolution upset his plans. He was sentenced to death. However, he managed to leave Armenia along with his young wife and return to Clamart in 1922. There, he would adopt the children of his perished brothers and educate them as his own. Over the next 50 years, he provided medical services in Clamart, earning the supreme respect of its people.”
The headquarters of the Foundation of Lea and Napoléon Bullukian is situated in the commune of Champagne-au-Mont-d’Or in the Metropolis of Lyon. It is a small castle in a beautiful park that now holds literary and musical evenings, meetings, and conferences.
Napoléon Bullukian was born in the Ottoman Empire in August 1905. Having miraculously escaped death, Bullukian scarcely made it to France. Initially a simple worker at construction sites, he would soon be ordered larger projects by the authorities of Lyon. Thanks to his diligence and resourcefulness, he quickly became one of the wealthiest people in Lyon.
He didn’t spare anything for his compatriots and for the development of the Armenian culture. In the years of WWII, he supported the fighters against the German occupants. However, Bullukian would soon be arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Germany. On April 24, 1945, he along with other prisoners was freed by the Red Army.
During his successful career, Bullukian has been a president of 18 organizations, including the Armenian charitable foundation. For his merits, he was awarded the Legion of Honour. The park in front of the Centre Léon Bérard in Lyon and one of the squares in the commune of Vénissieux near Lyon bear the name of Napoléon Bullukian.
Albert Andonian, Paris