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  • In The Company of Emperors: The Story of Ethiopian Armenians Posted on 03 October 2014

    Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia and the seat of the African Union. Taking a stroll through the capital today, you may be entirely unaware of the extensive Armenian presence in the city during the modernization period of Ethiopia. Although Armenians and Ethiopians share a long history as members of the same branch of Orthodox Christianity, there is a lesser-known story regarding the contributions of Armenians in Addis Ababa and how they transformed a newly born agricultural town into a thriving capital of culture and commerce.

    During the early 1900s, under the rule of Emperor Menelik II, there were approximately 50 Armenians in Addis Ababa. But the size of the community would soon grow tremendously and flourish with the turn of the century under Haile Selassie’s rule. Known by his official name, Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael, Haile Selassie was Ethiopia’s head of state from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor from 1930 to 1974. His life and legacy carry a fundamental role in African and Ethiopian history as well as in the Rastafari movement. In the case of the latter, he is considered a messianic and holy figure. In fact, the African-Jamaican spiritual ideology known as Rastafari gets its name from the imperial title of “Ras,” and Tafari — Selassie’s first name.

    After becoming the regent and de facto ruler of Ethiopia in 1916, Selassie began to gradually modernize Ethiopia, beginning with the capital, Addis Ababa. He started by having Ethiopia admitted to the League of Nations in 1923 and his diplomatic trips in the following years aimed to solidify stable connections outside of Ethiopia. The first of these diplomatic visits was in 1924, when Selassie went on a trip to Europe and the Middle East in the hopes of establishing allies in Europe. But it was in the heart of the Middle East — in Jerusalem — that Selassie would soon become acquainted with the 40 Armenian orphans who would ultimately become the forerunners in the modernization of mainstream music in Ethiopia.

    As Selassie toured Jerusalem, he visited the Armenian Quarter and marveled at the St. James Armenian Apostolic Church (Surb Hakobyants Vank.’) Selassie himself was a devout member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and he noted the striking similarities between the two churches, as well as the likeness in written script.

    More significantly, however, it was on this day, as he was walking through the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem, that Selassie observed a marching band composed of 40 young Armenian men; he was deeply moved by the band’s musical talent. After concluding his tour of the Armenian Church and district, Selassie had a conversation with Patriarch Turyan and learned that these 40 talented young musicians were orphans of the Armenian Genocide. He also learned of the terrible financial strain that came with raising these orphans. In response, Selassie offered to adopt and bring the marching band back with him to Addis Ababa.

    The 40 Armenian orphans arrived to the capital on September 6, 1924, accompanied by Father Hovhannes Simonian, and officially became known as the Arba Lijoch (“forty children” in Amharic, the official language in Ethiopia.)

    Read more: http://thearmenite.com/magazine/features/company-emperors-story-ethiopian-armenians/#ixzz3GdOCJp2i

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