Frankly, this is the first time I have written about my relationship with Greece and Greeks. It has never occurred to me that I would put anything in writing. I am afraid therefore that my words will fall short of what I would like to say.
The story begins in 1966 in Beirut, where my parents were living in what was known as the “Paris of the East” at the time. A prominent Armenian leader (an ex-Prime Minister of Armenia before the Soviets) asked my father to go to Greece to take care of a newly-opened Armenian school in the Neos Kosmos (New World) suburb of Athens.
The scene was somehow familiar to him: descendants of Armenian refugees starting to form a new life in a place where there is no persecution. He was used to communities formed by refugees coming from Cilicia, Upper Mesopotamia and Eastern Armenia. This time the refugees were from Smyrna, Constantinople, Izmit and other parts on the eastern Aegean coast.
In the 1960s the Armenian community in Athens was experiencing a new start following waves of immigration to Canada, Argentina and Soviet Armenia. Almost all Armenians by that time had acquired Greek citizenship, after decades of being stateless or using alternative documents (such as Nansen’s Passports). Enthusiasm was in the air. I was born in Athens soon after my parents’ arrival in 1966.
Unfortunately I enjoyed only a few years of life in Athens, which I hardly remember. Duty called my father again, and he was assigned to take care of other Armenian institutions in Tripoli (in the north of Lebanon), in Byblos (near Beirut) and in Kuwait, where I spent the rest of my childhood.
Armenia then was still under Soviet rule and my parents carried Syrian passports. Syria was the country where Armenian refugees first settled in 1915. My parents had relatives and property in Syria so they decided to return to their birthplace.
It is ironic that after 100 years, Syria has become once again the scene of massacres and massive deportations. I used to think that the world was not aware about the Armenian Genocide because at that time there were no Youtube postings or social media where people could share the news. Now I understand that media attention has limited influence in bringing a crisis to a stop.
I stayed in Syria until in 1989 I felt the need to come to my birthplace, Athens, this time as a foreign student determined to know more about that great city. My school mates used to ask me about Athens and I could not say much.
In Athens I was first immersed in learning Greek, which I consider one of the most enriching experiences in my life. It opened new horizons in front of me. I was interested to learn about the culture, the civilization, the lifestyle and everything related to the Greeks, not just the language. The radio stations and the newly-founded private TV channels were very useful in learning the language and observing society. Dionysiou’s song “Ego o Xenos” was a hit then. It was repeated so many times every day on the radio that it became the first song I memorized in Greek. Probably I loved it because of my status as “Xenos” (foreigner).
After learning the Greek language in Athens I was asked to join TEI Patras to study Tourism Management. I stayed in beautiful Patras for four years, including a period of time working in a travel agency, which was my first exposure to the world of business. I had to return to Syria to see what my parents were doing and to complete the obligatory military service in the Syrian Army.
In 1998, I came to the United Arab Emirates and started working in the Abu Dhabi Sheraton. A while later the Greek Ambassador spotted me during a visit to the hotel and asked me to join the Embassy team. I stayed in the Embassy until 2005, when I was appointed as Marketing Manager for the Middle East, GCC countries and Asia for the Cyprus Tourism Organisation. I was based in Dubai. In 2013, I started my own marketing and business consultancy company (called Consider Consultancy), where I combine all my experience and interests.
I would like to end this personal voyage by talking about the “Emirates Greeks”. This has been my way of saying “Thank you” to Greece and Greeks. “Emirates Greeks” was the first Greek social hub in UAE. It started in 2003 by bringing Greeks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai together where they could speak their mother tongue and get introduced to each other. It was an era before Facebook, Twitter and even Youtube, when Google was just starting to grow and blogging was a dominant way of writing online. We used Yahoo groups to reach out to the members and kept a Blogger account. The postings are still available online. The website first started in 2007 and this year (2015) we revamped it thanks to one of the volunteers. We have traveled a long path from when the number of all the Greeks in the UAE was not more than one thousand people.
The story is long and my involvement with the Greeks and Greece will certainly be a life-long affair. It started in Athens when I was born when Greece was still a kingdom, and it continues today when the country has gone through many ordeals. I see many Syrian refugees passing through Greece and I feel lucky that I was given the chance to drop anchor in the country and not to be just a passerby.
The song “Xenos” evokes inside me sweet emotions and now I feel myself less Xenos and more Greek, or at least a Xenos with a Greek touch.